Thousands of vulnerable patients in Swindon weren't told to shield until weeks after lockdown began last year, figures reveal.

NHS Digital data shows 4,860 patients in the town were on the list by April 12 last year. But when local doctors were asked to review it the patient count soared to 7,745 by May – an increase of 59 per cent.

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. 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 Hounslow.

Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said this was caused by poor data and a lack of joined-up policy systems. “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 a contact centre used 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 were 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 Swindon rose to 15,220 as of April 14 – 10,360 more than la year ago.

The British Medical Association said inadequate planning and unclear Government communication made shielding a distressing experience and jeopardised the public’s health and wellbeing. BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul added: “The shielding lists could have been created more quickly and effectively rather than shifting criteria and suddenly increasing the number of people on the list.This led to a huge rise in workload having to contact large numbers of people within a short time frame without comprehensive guidance.”

The Government said it delivered an urgent national scheme to contact people and provide them with vital food and medicine so they could shield – but many chose not to take up the offer.

A spokesperson added: “These report findings are disappointing and misjudged. We have learned more about the virus and adapted our approach, which has enabled us to protect those most vulnerable by providing them with shielding guidance and prioritising them for vaccination.”