Nearly a quarter of patients admitted to hospital with Covid in England are actually getting treated for a different condition, the health service’s first national audit has revealed.
NHS statistics show just 3,855 of the 5,021 of people in hospital with Covid on Tuesday were in primarily in hospital because they were unwell from the virus. The remaining 1,166 patients were receiving care for other illnesses and injuries, such as a broken leg.
Daily figures on the number of Covid patients in hospitals have been released throughout the pandemic, and have been paraded by ministers at No10 press conferences to justify keeping lockdown restrictions in place.
But, until now, they were never broken down to reveal exactly how many people occupying beds were truly ill with the virus, meaning counts included patients who just so happened to test positive.
The figures prompted criticism from Tory MPs who said the ‘misleading’ data has been behind some important decisions the Government has taken.
Experts said the numbers are ‘incredibly important’ and should have been collected since the beginning of the pandemic.
It comes as NHS England data released last week showed 44 per cent of patients tested positive before they went into hospital, suggesting the pressures of the third wave may be even less than the numbers show.
Meanwhile, hospital admission rates already slowing down, in sign third wave is coming under control.
Some experts believe hospitalisations may start to fall next week, in line with cases which have been plunging for over a week.
Official figures have been published daily since the beginning of the pandemic on the number of patients admitted to hospital with Covid (blue line). But new data released by the NHS shows the proportion of patients whose primary reason for going to hospital was to get treatment for Covid. The figures, which the NHS only started collecting on June 18, show the proportion of people who went to hospital ‘with Covid’ varied between 74.9 per cent and 79.7 per cent
Official figures, published for the first time last night, show just 3,855 of the 5,021 of people in hospital with Covid on Tuesday went into hospital because they were unwell from the virus. Pictured: A Covid patient at the intensive care Unit at Royal Papworth Hospital in January
Figures for hospitalisations in England show that just 44 per cent of the 827 people categorised as being hospitalised with Covid on Thursday July 15 tested positive in the two weeks before going to hospital. An additional 43 per cent tested positive for the virus within two days of being admitted, while the remaining 13 per cent were found to have the virus after two days in hospital
Fury over ‘misleading’ Covid hospital figures as it’s revealed half of patients only test positive AFTER admission for another illness — but NHS bosses say they’re ‘as busy now as they were in January’
More than half of people labelled as a Covid hospital patient in England only tested positive after being admitted for a different reason, leaked figures revealed last week.
Of th 827 people classed as in hospital in England on July 15 with Covid, 56 per cent were diagnosed during their stay.
An additional 43 per cent tested positive for the virus shortly after admission, while the remaining 13 per cent were found to have the virus after two days in hospital.
Covid testing is mandatory in all hospitals and patients are regularly checked for the virus, no matter what they are in hospital for.
It means patients giving birth or getting routine operations may be being added to the daily numbers.
Experts said officials must do more to differentiate between actual Covid admissions and ‘incidental’ cases.
Increased testing – officials are doing more now than ever before – and high levels of transmission in the community will have played a role, they said.
It comes after MailOnline’s analysis earlier this month found 40 per cent of Covid ‘admissions’ were in hospital for other reasons.
Tory MPs are now demanding new figures be published every day to paint a clearer picture of pressures on the NHS.
But health service bosses claimed today that trusts are just as busy as they were in the second wave of the pandemic, when there were more than 4,000 Covid admissions per day.
They said medics were juggling frantic efforts to chop down the 5.3million backlog of patients before winter as well as record numbers in A&E admissions.
It comes as Covid infections fell for the sixth day in a row in the UK for the first time since November. Latest hospital admission data shows there were 922 on July 22, up a quarter on the previous week.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid asked NHS England to differentiate between the types of patients in hospital to get a better idea of how many people the virus was driving to hospital.
Hospitals were told to give a breakdown of those who went to hospital primarily because of Covid and are suffering from severe symptoms, as well as those who test positive but are in hospital for another reason.
The figures, which the NHS only started collecting on June 18, show the proportion of people classed as Covid patients who went to hospital due to the virus varied between 74.9 per cent and 79.7 per cent.
Data suggests daily hospitalisation numbers are inflated, with between a quarter and a fifth of patients not seeking treatment for Covid.
In the most recent week, just 77.8 per cent of Covid patients were admitted because of the virus.
But in the South East, as little as 68.5 per cent of infected patients were admitted because of the virus, with 140 of the 444 people in hospital who tested positive seeking other treatment.
Meanwhile, 266 of the 312 (85.3 per cent) Covid patients hospitalised in the South West were admitted due to the virus.
Despite the promising numbers, health officials warned those classed as ‘primarily non-Covid’ could be suffering from an illness that was exacerbated because of the virus.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Tory MP and former leader of the party, told The Telegraph: ‘What we are beginning to discover is that the nature of the data collection has been really poor.
‘This in turn means that ministers who have to make very big decisions are too often sitting on misleading data, which often leads to flawed decision-making.
‘It really does not speak well that they have not been forthcoming in what the real figures are. These figures will be having a direct impact on some of the decisions that have been made and are being made.’
Tory MP Sir Graham Brady said it was ‘frustrating and ridiculous that this was not available months and months ago’.
He said: ‘Accurate and timely data is vital for good policy-making.
‘It is essential we know why people are being admitted to hospital, how long they are remaining in hospital and how effective the new medical treatments and interventions are in reducing the dangers of Covid, alongside the success of the vaccination programme.’
But a Department of Health and Social Care spokesman warned the total number of patients with Covid – whether that is primarily what they are being treated for or not – is ‘a crucial indicator of pressure on the NHS’, because they all require careful infection control, including quarantining and PPE.
They added: ‘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.’
Professor Carl Heneghan, the director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, told the newspaper: ‘This data is incredibly important, and this is information we should have had a very long time ago. We have been crying out for it for nearly 18 months.
‘The Government might have made very different decisions about restrictions if it had access to data which actually measured the situation accurately.’
Prof Heneghan said the trends suggested tens of thousands of patients may have been inaccurately counted as Covid hospitalisations, adding: ‘This data shows that, for the last month, around one in four Covid hospital cases were admitted primarily for another reason.
‘At the peak of the pandemic in January, we were talking about close to 40,000 patients in hospital – this new data suggests that back then around 10,000 of them were primarily there for other reasons.’
Meanwhile, figures published by NHS England last week showed more than half of people labelled as a Covid hospital patient in England only tested positive after being admitted for a different reason.
There were 827 patients admitted for Covid in England on July 15, according to the Government’s coronavirus dashboard. But 56 per cent of these were only diagnosed with the virus after being in hospital for a different illness, with some patients only testing positive weeks later, according to data seen by The Telegraph.
It comes as the growth in hospitalisations are slowing. At the beginning of the month, cases were rising up to 75 per cent week on week, but this fell drastically to just 18 per cent, according to the latest figures from Sunday.
Covid infections have been falling over the last week, and with hospitalisation running a couple of weeks behind cases, some experts think they may mirror the pattern by next week.