Social distancing, self-isolation, shielding: what’s the difference?

Self-isolation, social distancing and shielding have been introduced by the Government to help you and your loved ones stay safe from COVID-19. Find out what they mean in practice and what applies to you.
What is social distancing?
Social distancing refers to limiting face-to-face contact with others as much as possible. If you have to go outside you should stay more than two metres (three steps) apart from anyone other than members of your own household.
The Government’s most up to date advice can be found here.
We can all help control the virus if we all stay alert. This means you must:
  • stay at home as much as possible
  • work from home if you can
  • limit contact with other people
  • keep your distance if you go out (2 metres apart where possible)
  • wash your hands regularly

Do not leave home if you or anyone in your household has symptoms.

For more information, see the full government guidance on staying at home and away from others.

Read more on what you can and cannot do under the new restrictions.

Should I be social distancing?

Yes, everyone should be social distancing until the Government instructs otherwise.

Easy read guide on social distancing

Take a look at the easy read guide on social distancing: Keeping away from other people: new rules to follow from 23 March 2020.

Go to easy read

What is self-isolation?

Self-isolation is the most effective way to prevent the spread of coronavirus and should be done if you show symptoms of coronavirus – such as a dry cough and/or high temperature. It means that you must stay indoors and where possible, avoid contact with others. This includes stopping day-to-day activities, such as shopping for food or collecting medication.

If you are self-isolating it is a good idea to call on the help of family and friends to help you do tasks where you would need to go outside. If you do not have a close network nearby, contact your local authority or community aid groups for help.

Should I be in self-isolation?

The Government’s advice is to self-isolate if:

  • You have any coronavirus symptoms, such as a fever above 37.8C, a persistent cough or breathing problems.
  • You think that you have been exposed to coronavirus. For example, by being in contact with someone who is displaying symptoms.
  • You live with someone who has symptoms of coronavirus.

If you live alone, you should stay at home for seven days from when your symptoms started. If you live with others, then you must stay at home for seven days from when your symptoms started. However, everyone else in the household who is well must stay at home and not leave for 14 days.

Easy read guide on staying at home

Take a look at the easy read guide on staying at home: Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice on staying at home.

Go to easy read

Further guidance for staying at home

Take a look at the Government guidance for households with possible coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.

Read more

What is shielding or social shielding?

Shielding or social shielding is used to describe how to protect those at highest risk of severe illness if they catch coronavirus. You can shield yourself following the Government guidance, and shield others by minimising all interaction between yourself and those who are most at risk.

Should I be shielding?

If you have received a letter from the NHS identifying you as a patient in the high risk category, you should stay in isolation for a total of 12 weeks from the date you received your letter. If there are any changes to this advice, you will be contacted.

People in this group who think they have developed symptoms of coronavirus should get advice from the NHS 111 online service or call NHS 111.

Easy read guide on shielding

Take a look at the easy read guide on shielding: Guidance on protecting people most likely to get very poorly from coronavirus (shielding).

Go to easy read

Hear to help: preventing isolation during lockdown

Clinicians from Newcastle Hospital’s Audiology Department are adapting the way they help patients who use hearing aids by offering an improved postal repairs service to prevent loneliness and isolation.

Patients receive replacement batteries and tubing for their earmoulds so they can continue to hear, despite the lockdown restriction on non-urgent face-to-face appointments.

Kate Johnston, Head of Audiology at the Freeman Hospital said “Lockdown and being isolated from family and friends is tough on anyone, but if you lose your ability to hear, this can be even more isolating for the individual.

“We want to make sure that everyone can maintain some form of normality and can keep connected as possible, in what is a difficult time for everyone.

“We are still offering patients advice and support. If anyone needs batteries for their hearing aid or require information, please get in touch.”

The postal service is something that will be maintained after the current covid-19 restrictions are lifted and patients are encouraged to continue to order batteries and tubes via post where possible.

The Trust is no longer able to operate a drop-in hearing aid repair service at the Freeman Hospital. The hearing aid repair service will be offered by appointment only.

Appointments will be available from 8.15am – 5pm Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays).

Kate added: “Appointments will be limited to allow us to adhere to social distancing regulations in our waiting areas, so these appointments will be for emergency repairs only e.g.broken earmoulds. Please only book an appointment if it is an emergency.  For all other repairs and hearing aid maintenance, we are still providing our postal repair service.”

To arrange a postal repair or to book an appointment please contact Audiology:

Telephone: 0191 223 1043

Text message only: 07766 087 036

Email – Adults: or Paediatrics:

The Trust continues to follow updates from NHS England and will be seeing non-urgent patients when it is safe to do so.

NHS Volunteer Responders

Registration for NHS Volunteer Responders is temporarily paused to enable over 750,000 applications to be processed and get the volunteer army up and running.  

NHS Volunteer Responders is a new group that will carry out simple, non-medical tasks to support people in England who are self-isolating because of specific health conditions. They will be used by healthcare professionals to make sure people who are highly vulnerable to coronavirus are able to stay safe and well at home.

NHS Volunteer Responders will support with simple but vital tasks including driving people to and from hospital, delivering food and medication, and telephone befriending. Volunteers will also support the NHS to transport equipment and supplies.

Volunteers have been recruited for four key roles; the support you request will need to match these roles in order to ensure the volunteer has received appropriate guidance and checks:

Community Response Volunteer: This role involves collecting shopping, medication or other essential supplies for someone who is self-isolating/vulnerable, and delivering these supplies to their home.

Patient Transport Volunteer: This role supports the NHS by providing transport to patients who are medically fit for discharge, as well as taking patients to their essential appointments.

NHS Transport Volunteer: This role involves transporting equipment, supplies and/or medication between NHS services and sites, it may also involve assisting pharmacies with medication delivery.

Check in and Chat Volunteer: This role provides short-term telephone support to individuals who are at risk of loneliness as a consequence of self-isolation.

NHS Volunteer Responders are not intended to replace local groups helping their vulnerable neighbours but is an additional service provided by the NHS.

Call 0808 196 3382 or visit the website

Ambulance Service launches Video Technology

Patients will soon be able to speak to ambulance service clinicians via video thanks to new technology being introduced by North East Ambulance Service (NEAS).

NEAS is making use of Attend Anywhere software to allow ambulance staff working in the community to seek advice from clinicians working within the Emergency Operations Centre via video link. This will also be used to speak to patients who require advice but may not need an ambulance to attend to them. Building on this, the service will then be expanded to the wider health system, including care homes.

The new system is one of 17 projects which NEAS has been working on since being chosen as one of three ambulance services to join the national Global Digital Exemplar (GDE) programme back in 2018.

Video conferencing will be rolled out at NEAS in the following ways:

Clinical advice for staff – newly qualified paramedics will be able to use the facilities to speak to specialist paramedics for clinical advice and reassurance whilst on scene with a patient who they think can be safely left at home without needing to travel to hospital. This support was previously carried out as a telephone conversation, relying heavily on vocal descriptions; using video instead will allow staff to use visual cues in their clinical decision making.

Patient support – after going through the triage system on either NHS111 or 999, patients who need to speak to a clinician may be given a secure link via text message or email, which will take them through to a video call on their smart phone, computer or tablet.

Specialist support – the system also has the potential to be used by other specialists, such as the NEAS Hazardous Area Response Team and Great North Air Ambulance, to see whether their services are required on scene, ensuring their specialist skills are reserved for patients who need them most.

Paul Aitken-Fell, lead consultant paramedic at NEAS, said “As the regional ambulance service, NEAS forms a critical part of the care process, bridging primary, secondary and acute care. We only touch patients for a short period of time, with little knowledge of their medical history but often in their most desperate times of need. It is therefore vital that we ensure we are informed as much as possible when we are needed.

“The initiatives we are pursuing through this programme, such as video consultation, are helping us to make better use of technology to improve the care and treatment decisions our clinicians make for our patients.

“In light of the current coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever that we are able to offer ways of being able to keep patients safely at home and reduce unnecessary ambulance attendances and referrals to hospital and other providers.

“One of the hardest jobs for a clinician working within our Emergency Operations Centre is the inability to see a patient and therefore having to rely on what they are being told over the phone. This inevitably means that they sometimes have no choice but to dispatch an ambulance just to get a pair of eyes on a patient and make sure they’re ok.

“The ability to see patients face to face via video consultations therefore means we can potentially reduce ambulance callouts, freeing up our clinicians to see more patients. We believe it may also mean we see a reduction in referrals to other providers, thereby freeing up appointments in the wider system and reducing the wait for people who need those physical appointments. And, for our newly qualified paramedics, it means they will have improved access to clinical support to help them deliver high quality care for every contact whilst also reducing unnecessary hospital admissions.”

The aim of the GDE programme is to join up and digitalise health systems to provide clinicians with more timely access to accurate information and support service change, thereby improving patient care.

NEAS was chosen to join the GDE programme in recognition of its track record of digital delivery, which included being the first ambulance trust to deliver NHS111 services, being the first ambulance trust to roll out airwave radio and communications system service wide and being the first NHS111 provider to deliver region wide electronic GP bookings.

Other projects which have either been completed or are in the process of being implemented as part of the GDE programme, include:

  • Developing a common message to allow ambulance systems to digitally pass patient information to hospital systems supporting the transfer of care process;
  • Creating a central directory which provides NHS providers with real time information about services available to support a patient;
  • Capturing a patient’s NHS number as part of their 999 call, without delaying treatment to the patient, to provide clinicians with access to additional information relating to the patient’s previous symptoms and treatments and to transfer information to other services, such as GPs following an ambulance call-out;
  • Developing simulation software to identify the impact of system changes, both internally and externally, to ensure resources match the needs of the service;
  • Developing a messaging and collaboration platform for informing ambulance staff about their compliance with best practice and informing them of changes;
  • Introducing barcode tracking to better manage medicine and stocks on vehicles.

Talking Matters Northumberland: Update

Changes to services during the coronavirus outbreak


Due to the current crisis Talking Matters Northumberland staff are working from home, so have had to make changes to the phone referral process.

To make a referral you must now leave a voicemail with your name, date of birth and a contact phone number, as direct calls can’t be taken.

The team aims to call you back the same day and please be aware that this will be from a private number– please ensure your phone will accept this call.

Two attempts will be made throughout the day to speak to you, between 9.00am and 5.00pm but if you can’t be contacted, your referral will be closed and you will have to call again and leave another message.


If you have any concerns about being able to make a referral online or through this call system you can speak to your GP about them referring on your behalf.

Talking Matters Northumberland website

Digital and face to face therapy will be back on offer as soon as it is possible to do this safely and effectively.