Nearly 9,000 patients died after catching Covid on hospital wards

Nearly 9,000 patients died after catching Covid on English hospital wards while being treated for something else

  • 32,307 patients caught disease in hospital since last March, of which 8,747 died
  • University Hospitals Birmingham suffered biggest death toll, with 408 victims
  • Followed by Nottingham University Hospitals (279) and Frimley in Surrey (259)

Nearly 9,000 Britons died after contracting Covid on a hospital ward while receiving care for something else, official NHS data shows. 

Figures obtained by the Guardian revealed that 32,307 patients have caught the disease while in English hospitals since March 2020, of which 8,747 have died.  

University Hospitals Birmingham suffered the biggest death toll (408), followed by Nottingham University Hospitals (279) and Frimley in Surrey (259). 

Victims were found to have caught the virus while hospital for a range of reasons, including an operation, treatment for an underlying condition or an accident. 

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said hospital-acquired Covid infections and deaths remained ‘one of the silent scandals of this pandemic’, adding that many of them would have been avoidable.

NHS bosses said a lack of testing and personal protective equipment at the start of the pandemic had made it harder to prevent the virus from spreading. 

They also admitted that not fully understanding the extend of asymptomatic spread fuelled outbreaks on wards in the early days of the pandemic.

Nine of the 81 acute hospital trusts which responded to the Freedom of Information request recorded 200 or more deaths. 

Nearly 9,000 Britons died after contracting Covid in hospital while receiving care for a different illness, official NHS data shows. Pictured: PPE-clad radiologists comfort a patient before an X-ray at the Royal Blackburn Teaching Hospital in East Lancashire

NHS England has published the number of hospital-acquired infections since August but does not routinely disclose fatalities.

The new figures include everyone who died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid.

They do not tell whether a person died directly of Covid, if it was a contributing factor in their death or if they died from something completely unrelated.

The data refers to deaths among patients who tested positive for Covid from eight to 14 days after they were admitted to hospital – ‘probable’ cases – and those who received a positive test after being admitted for 15 days or more – ‘definite’ cases.

The spread of the virus on wards has been a problem for the NHS throughout the crisis, with hospitals that have more infected patients finding it harder to manage.

Royal Cornwall hospitals 36%

Salisbury 35%

Kettering general hospital 31%

Stockport 31%

University hospitals of Morecambe Bay 30%

Blackpool teaching hospitals 30%

Warrington and Halton hospitals 27%

Wirral university teaching hospital 27%

Northampton general hospital 26% 

James Paget university hospitals 26%

Although staff must wear protective equipment at all times and Covid and non-Covid patients are segregated, the virus still spreads from people who have no symptoms or who get false negative test results.

The trust with the highest proportion of deaths among patients who caught the virus in hospital was Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh trust in Lancashire. 

Between last October and this March, 273 patients caught the disease while receiving care for something else, of which 174 died (64 per cent).

The trust was followed by Gateshead health, where 56 per cent of those who caught the disease in hospital died, and Wirral University teaching hospital (54 per cent).   

Chris Hopson, chief executive of hospitals group NHS Providers, told the Guardian that asymptomatic spread and a lack of testing at the start of the pandemic made it hard to control the virus.

‘These figures are distressing and lay bare how difficult the past 15 months have been. Every Covid-19 death has been a tragedy and trust leaders’ first thoughts are with the families of all those who have died from Covid-19, whatever the original source of the infection.

‘Trusts have worked incredibly hard to maintain a safe environment but Covid-19 brought unique challenges to every health system in the world. These include significant numbers of patients having Covid-19 without showing symptoms and, early in the pandemic, insufficient access to rapid turnaround testing.’

An NHS spokesperson said: ‘The Office of National Statistics and other data conclusively demonstrate that the root cause of rising infection rates in hospitals is rising rates in the community and throughout the pandemic weekly reports from Public Health England have consistently shown that outbreaks in hospitals are less common than in other settings.’

It follows scientists claiming in evidence presented to No10’s top advisers that up to 40 per cent of coronavirus infections in hospital patients during the first wave of the pandemic could have been caught on NHS wards.

On February 12, SAGE released a document submitted to the panel that claimed stopping the spread of the virus in hospitals may have led to a ‘substantial’ reduction in the number of deaths in the first wave because the patients were often old or frail.

And this transmission meant the first phase of the UK’s coronavirus crisis was ‘prolonged, potentially by several weeks’, they said.

The SAGE paper suggested that as many as 36,152 of around 90,000 people who were diagnosed with the virus in hospital between February and July 2020 had caught it in hospital. It makes assumptions about cases from a time when coronavirus testing was often limited.

The paper estimated at least 8.8 per cent of Covid hospital cases in England over the first wave of the pandemic may have been what are known as nosocomial, or hospital-acquired, infections.

These include people who became ill while an inpatient for another condition, or who developed Covid shortly after being discharged and then ended up back in hospital.

Some of the cases were only suspected, while others were confirmed by process of elimination.

The 8.8 per cent figure was for people who tested positive 15 or more days after being admitted, who were certain to have caught the virus in hospital.

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