Covid: Up to one in four admitted to hospital for other reasons

By Michelle Roberts
Health editor, BBC News online

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Image source, PA Media

New NHS data suggests 23% of people with Covid infections in hospital were admitted for other reasons.

Hospitals in England have released more detail than usual about the number of Covid patients in their care.

The government denies NHS pressures had previously been overstated by counting all patients testing positive.

All patients are routinely tested for Covid upon admission, whatever their reason for coming to hospital.

The Department for Health and Social Care said this measure was still "the most important" because of the impact Covid-positive patients have on NHS capacity and workforce pressure.

This allows hospitals to provide the most appropriate care and use the right infection control measures to help stop the spread of the virus.

Patients with Covid should be treated away from non-infected patients.

But critics say until now, published hospital data may not have reflected the true toll of Covid on the NHS.

The government says the new data will help scientists to track to what extent vaccines are reducing severe Covid.

NHS England began collecting more detailed hospital Covid data in June 2021, at the request of Prof Keith Willett, NHS Strategic Incident Director.

The latest statistics, for 27 July 2021, show:

  • 5,021 beds are occupied by patients who tested positive for Covid
  • 3,855 of those patients are being treated primarily for Covid-19
  • This signifies that 1,166 are being treated primarily for something other than the virus

Some of these 'other' patients may have conditions that have been made worse by Covid or to which Covid has contributed, says NHS England.

'Long overdue'

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "The Health and Social Care Secretary asked for this data to help us better understand the impact of the vaccine programme on stopping people infected with Covid requiring hospital treatment.

"The total number of patients with Covid - whether that is primarily what they are being treated for or not - remains a crucial indicator of pressure on the NHS, since all those patients require careful infection control including quarantining and PPE."

Prof Carl Heneghan, from the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University, said the change was long overdue.

"We have been crying out for it for nearly 18 months," Prof Heneghan said.

He said the data suggested, historically, tens of thousands of patients who were counted in hospital data as Covid cases may have been people who were admitted for other health reasons.

"High quality, accurate data is essential for healthcare decision making. Including the NHSE data in the daily updates will facilitate policy informed by the actual number of hospital admissions for Covid."

Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, from the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, said: "The main role for hospitalisation statistics is to indicate the pressure on the NHS.

"Patients with Covid have to be treated in a resource-intensive way, whether Covid was the primary reason for their admission or not, and even if they caught it in hospital.

"Therefore the total number in hospital with Covid seems an appropriate overall summary statistic, although this new breakdown does provide additional information."

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