THOUSANDS of vulnerable patients in Darlington, County Durham and North Yorkshire 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 numbers shielding.

The Government originally asked those most vulnerable to Covid-19 to isolate in March last year.

NHS Digital figures show 15,625 patients in County Durham were on the shielding list by April 12 – the earliest version available.

The figures were 2,675 patients in Darlington and 3,165 in North Yorkshire.

Local doctors were then asked to review the data, causing the patient count to swell to 25,365 by May 15 – an increase of 62 per cent.

In Darlington, it went up to 5,160 - an increase of 93 per cent - and 3,165 in North Yorkshire.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee said the "unacceptable" level of variation was evidence of a postcode lottery and chairwoman Meg Hillier said it was caused by 'poor data' and a lack of 'joined-up policy systems'.

The Department of Health and Social Care defended its process, with a spokesperson saying: “During this globally unprecedented emergency, we worked alongside the NHS and multiple government departments to build and deliver an urgent national scheme in record time, supporting approximately 1.3 million clinically extremely vulnerable people to shield effectively.

“It was essential GPs and clinicians were able to use their clinical judgement to add additional patients to the centrally-held Shielded Patient List.

"We are confident this was the best way to identify all those at risk quickly, given the pressures faced by frontline services and those at greatest vulnerability to the national health emergency.”