Some 11,700 people caught COVID and died after being admitted to NHS hospitals in England for other ailments, The Telegraph reports. In some trusts, around a third of COVID deaths were patients who contracted the virus in the hospital.
Thousands of patients hospitalised for other illnesses “probably” or “definitely” caught coronavirus during their stay and subsequently died, hospital data show.
British MPs have called the figures scandalous, and there have been renewed calls for vaccinations for NHS staff to become compulsory, amid fears that hospitals could struggle to cope in winter.
The government is expected to announce mandatory vaccination for NHS staff this week.
Using Freedom of Information laws, The Telegraph obtained data from NHS Trusts around England showing the numbers of coronavirus cases that were probably caught in hospital – known as nosocomial infections – and subsequent deaths.
The disclosures reveal that 11,688 people who died in hospital after testing positive for COVID probably caught the virus there, accounting for one in eight COVID deaths in hospital.
One trust – University Hospitals Birmingham – recorded 484 deaths of patients who were thought to have caught the virus on wards during the pandemic. In some trusts, around a third of the patients who had died with COVID had caught the virus in hospital. Trusts also reported 40,229 “probable” and “definite” hospital-acquired COVID infections.
The data provided by NHS trusts break infections and deaths into categories of “probable” and “definite”. NHS England has asked hospital trusts to record the data this way, defining “probable” as a patient testing positive between eight and 14 days after admission – and “definite” – where a person tested positive more than 14 days after admission.
However, NHS England has called the analysis “flawed” because it contained “probable” cases, meaning it “will contain cases of people who did not catch COVID in hospital”.
Some trusts refused to disclose their data, suggesting that the true number of patients who caught COVID in hospital and died might be even higher.
While issues surrounding infection control could lead to increased nosocomial infections and deaths, the figures are also likely to be influenced by other factors including a hospitalʼs size, bed occupancy and levels of infection in the local population.
The hospitals where nosocomial COVID deaths represent a large proportion of overall COVID deaths will possibly prompt the most concern, adds The Telegraph.
At four acute NHS trusts, more than a quarter of patients who died with the virus, had caught it in hospital. Another 34 trusts said that one in five patients who had died after testing positive for COVID had become infected in their care.
At the Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, 213 patients died after catching COVID on its wards, accounting for a third of all of its COVID deaths.
The other trusts with a high proportion of their COVID deaths linked to nosocomial infection said staff had followed infection control procedures and that they had high COVID rates in their local communities, which is known to push up nosocomial infections.
The Countess of Chester said COVID patients had occupied “more than 70% of [its] general and acute beds at one point” and that it had “consistently high emergency department attendances”, meaning it was “one of the most seriously affected trusts in the North of England”.
University Hospitals Birmingham, “one of the largest hospital trusts in the country”, had “treated more than 18,000 COVID-19 patients… significantly more than any other hospital trust”.
An NHS spokesperson said that staff had “rigorously followed UK Health Security Agency infection prevention control guidance” and that the “root cause of rising infection rates in hospitals is rising rates in the community”, adds The Telegraph.
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