NHS is urged to stop counting thousands of

NHS is urged to STOP counting thousands of Covid ‘patients’ who are actually being treated for other illnesses: Data shows a QUARTER of infected Brits in hospital were admitted for different conditions such as road accidents

  • Health service statistics show there were 5,697 beds taken up by people who had tested positive for the virus
  • But 1,483 of these were being treated for other illnesses or injuries such as a bad fall at home
  • Hospital numbers are a key metric used by ministers to determine whether tougher Covid curbs are needed 

More than a quarter of Covid ‘patients’ currently occupying hospital beds are actually being treated for another condition, according to official data that has prompted calls for the NHS to change how it counts admissions in the face of Omicron. 

Health service statistics show there were 5,697 beds taken up by people who had tested positive for the virus on December 7, the latest date available. 

But 4,214 of them (74 per cent) were primarily being treated for the virus, with the remaining suffering from other illnesses or injuries. These could include a fall, broken leg, or even new mothers who tested positive after giving birth.

And older people, who are more at risk from the virus, made up a smaller proportion of the patients in hospitals because of the success of the country’s vaccination drive, figures also showed. 

Campaigners today called on the NHS to stop inflating Covid admissions by including patients who were initially brought in for something else such as an accident, saying they should ‘obviously’ be removed from the figures so that they can’t be skewed upwards.

Hospital numbers are a key metric weighed up by ministers to determine if tougher Covid curbs are needed, now that vaccines have taken most of the emphasis away from crude infection numbers. 

Grim SAGE modelling presented to the Government has already warned hospitalisations could hit levels not seen since the darkest depths of the second wave last January. NHS England’s chief executive Amanda Pritchard today told MPs that early signs show the incoming Omicron wave could be ‘bigger’.

No10 has already caved in to demands for Plan B restrictions, which saw work from home guidance reintroduced, face masks reimposed and the tightening up of self-isolation rules for close contacts of Covid cases.

Britain’s daily Covid cases hit a record high after 78,610 people tested positive for the virus over the past 24 hours, the most ever in a single day. Hospitalisations rose seven per cent after 774 more admissions were reported.

The above graph shows the number of Covid patients being treated in hospital (yellow line) and the proportion of these patients for whom their primary reason for admission was Covid (red line). It reveals a quarter of Covid patients are actually receiving treatment for something else, such as a fall

The proportion of patients in hospitals has also shifted, with fewer 65 to 84-year-olds now being admitted for Covid after the vaccines were rolled out

The Omicron Covid variant is now dominant in London, and is expected to make up the majority of cases in other regions over the coming days and weeks.

Government advisers today upped the pressure on ministers to resort to Plan C, warning that the NHS is already in ‘serious peril’ and that there is a ‘very real possibility’ it will be overwhelmed next month.  

The contingency plan could see face masks made compulsory in pubs and restaurants in England, controversial vaccine passports extended to even more venues like cinemas and theatres, and social distancing back in indoor public places. 

SAGE member Professor Graham Medley, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, today said that if infections continue to increase rapidly then admission numbers could get ‘very large’ and rise over the 2,000 a day mark. This is about half the peak seen in January when it hit 4,000 a day.

But projections presented by his team at the weekend showed the true toll could exceed that reached over the second wave.

Scientists advising the Government today ramped up the pressure for ministers to impose even tighter Covid curbs. 

Dr Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency, warned Omicron posed the ‘biggest threat’ yet. 

She told MPs: ‘Trying to prevent ingress of any infections still remains a key point, particularly when we can foresee a very large wave of Omicron coming through and our health services potentially being in serious peril.’

SAGE modeller Professor Graham Medley admitted he feared the super-strain could trigger a ‘very large’ wave of hospitalisations because it is so transmissible, while vaccine adviser Professor Adam Finn called for action to halt the ‘alarming’ spread of the virus.

But after suffering a 100-strong backbench revolt over introducing Covid passes last night, there are now serious questions about whether the Prime Minister has the political strength to impose a tougher lockdown if he needs to.

Omicron is already behind half of all new Covid cases in London, which has seen its infection rate spiral to the highest levels since January and prompted calls for regional action. 

One modelling study has found that cases in the capital are now rising faster than at any point since the first wave, prompting an expert to say that anyone battling a cold currently probably has Covid.

Parts of London’s West End have already effectively entered lockdown as theatre shows are suspended and pubs and restaurant suffer a wave of cancellations triggered by mounting fears over the variant sweeping the capital.

In reality, England is currently seeing 750 Covid admissions a day. But the delay between getting infected and becoming seriously ill means the full force of Omicron won’t be felt until closer to the New Year.

No10 has refused to put a firm figure on the threshold that would trigger the return of more restrictions, insisting instead that Plan B was enough to handle the current crisis.

But critics say figures used for the standard Covid hospital numbers have become a less reliable way of gauging the outbreak and NHS pressure. 

Asked if the NHS figures should include Covid patients not primarily being treated for the disease, former World Health Organization adviser and healthcare expert Professor Karol Sikora said: ‘They should remove them, that should be the obvious thing to do.

‘If they are there because they had a road accident they should be removed.’ 

‘Some patients do have a chest infection and sometimes you don’t know whether it is Covid.

‘[But] if they test positive you may well have to list them as a Covid hospitalisation, even though the infection is caused by something else.’

The NHS says patients classed as ‘primarily non-Covid’ could be suffering from an illness that is exacerbated because of the virus, or could be vulnerable and become seriously ill while in hospital.

It only started to differentiate between the types of patients in hospital in June to get a better idea of the scale of the outbreak. It was instructed to do so by the then-newly-appointed Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who is much more of a ‘hawk’ than his predecessor Matt Hancock.

Professor Sikora insisted figures showed the NHS is not under any more pressure than normal for this time of year, which some critics have argued.

He pointed out that the proportion of the 91,000 NHS beds available for Covid patients is still below five per cent, and that hospitals would only face an issue when it rises above this figure.

In October hospitals were told they could dump social distancing, adopt standard cleaning practices and no longer require patients coming in for surgery to undergo a three-day isolation first. 

Broken down by region, the Midlands has the highest proportion of so-called Covid patients in its hospitals being treated for a different condition.

Official figures show 64.8 per cent of patients on its virus wards are actually in for another illness. It was followed by the North East (69.7 per cent) and the North West (71.1 per cent).

On the other end of the scale London — the current epicentre of the Omicron crisis — had the highest proportion of patients being treated for Covid (83.9 per cent), followed by the South West (82.1 per cent) and the South East (76.8 per cent). 

Separate data shows 38.8 per cent of patients being treated in hospitals last month were 65 to 84 years old, down from 46.7 per cent the same time last year. 

Older Covid patients tend to suffer more serious disease, meaning the lower numbers now suggest fewer patients are seriously ill especially given the fact vaccination rates are highest in the elderly. 

Across England some 4.6 per cent of the country’s 91,000 available hospital beds are occupied by patients primarily being treated for the virus.

But experts say alarm bells should only start to ring when this rises above five per cent, but that the NHS should not be considered as in serious trouble until the proportion ticks up to 20 per cent.

Hospitalisations are rising fastest in the country’s Omicron epicentre London, up 32 per cent in a week from 110 to 145 daily admissions on average. But Department of Health figures show they are rising slightly across all regions.

Professor Medley, an infectious diseases modeller and Government adviser, warned it was a ‘very real possibility’ that hospitals could end up being overwhelmed.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘If the numbers of infections increasing continues in the way that it has done, and it spills out into older age groups, then we could see numbers of people being admitted to hospital getting very large and certainly going over the 1,000, maybe up to 2,000 a day, that we’ve managed to keep the Delta variant below.

‘It was sort of below 1,000 since July without any restrictions, but I think that is going to be very, very difficult or is very unlikely to happen.’

Pressed on the possibility of the NHS being overwhelmed next month, the expert said: ‘I think so, there is that possibility.

‘It’s very hard to be certain about these things. You certainly can’t put a risk or probability on them, but that is one of one of the more likely things that could happen.’

He also warned that hospitalisations could rise at a rate where the country ends up with the next four months of the pandemic taking place in just one.

But he also admitted boosters would help to provide a wall of protection against the virus, and prevent many of the most vulnerable getting severely ill and ending up in hospital.

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