More than half of COVID-19 hospitalisations in Britain are patients who tested positive only after admission, leaked NHS data reveal. The Telegraph reports that the figures suggest “vast numbers are being classed as hospitalised by COVID when they were admitted with other ailments”.
Experts said it meant the national statistics, published daily on the government website, may far overstate the levels of pressures on the NHS. The leaked data – covering all NHS trusts in England – show that, as of last Thursday, just 44% of patients classed as being hospitalised with COVID had tested positive when they were admitted. Most cases were not detected until patients underwent standard COVID tests, carried out on everyone admitted to hospital for any reason. Overall, 56% of COVID hospitalisations fell into this category, the data, seen by The Telegraph, show.
Crucially, this group does not distinguish between those admitted because of severe illness, later found to be caused by the virus, and those in hospital for different reasons who might otherwise never have known they had picked it up.
Last month, health officials instructed NHS trusts for “a breakdown of the current stock of COVID patients”, splitting it into those who were in hospital primarily because of the virus and those there for other reasons. So far, The Telegraph notes, NHS England has failed to publish these data.
However, the patterns shown in the leaked figures – the vast majority of hospital COVID cases being diagnosed after admission, in some cases weeks later – suggest it includes large numbers likely to have been admitted for other reasons.
The breakdown of daily COVID hospital diagnoses shows that of more than 780 hospitalisations dated last Thursday, 44% involved people who tested positive in the 14 days before admission. A further 43% were made within two days of admission, with 13% made in the days and weeks that followed, including those likely to have caught the virus in hospital.
Experts said the high number of cases being detected belatedly, at a time when tests were widely available, suggested many such patients had been admitted for other reasons, according to The Telegraph.
Prof Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University, said: “These data are incredibly important, and should be published on an ongoing basis. When people hear about hospitalisations with COVID, they will assume COVID is the likely cause, but these data show something quite different. This is about COVID being detected after tests were looking for it.”
An NHS spokesman said: “Many patients are admitted to hospital because of their COVID symptoms and complications, which are then confirmed with a post-admission COVID test, and for others they may initially be presymptomatic or asymptomatic.”
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