THOUSANDS of vulnerable patients in Barrow were not told to shield until months after lockdown began last year, figures reveal.

A group of MPs said the Government's lack of planning created a postcode lottery with areas across England reporting unacceptable variations in the number of people shielding.

The Government originally asked those considered to be the most vulnerable to Covid-19 to isolate at home in March last year.

NHS Digital figures show 2,070 patients in Barrow were on the shielding list by April 12 – the earliest version available.

Local doctors were then asked to review the data, causing the patient count to soar to 4,630 by May 15 – an increase of 124 per cent.

Across England, reviews led shielding numbers to increase by 73 per cent – but this varied hugely regionally, from just 15 per cent in Carlisle to 352 per cent in the London borough of Hounslow.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee said the "unacceptable" level of variation was evidence of a postcode lottery, as the list grew from 1.3 million to 2.2 million nationally.

Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier MP said this was caused by "poor data" and a lack of "joined-up policy systems".

She said: “The shielding response in the Covid pandemic has particularly exposed the high human cost of the lack of planning for shielding in pandemic-planning scenarios.

“People were instructed to isolate, to protect themselves and others – but the cost of this protection was reduced access to living essentials like food, and an untold toll on mental health and wellbeing.”

MPs also found that a contact centre established to trace those who did not respond to an initial shielding letter was unable to reach 800,000 people – and it is still not known whether they had been contacted by local authorities.

The national shielding list increased significantly again in February, when scientists developed a new tool to assess whether someone is at risk of severe disease or death.

The latest update shows the number on the shielding list in Barrow has risen to 6,405 as of April 14 – 4,335 more than a year previously.