One in nine first-wave Covid patients caught the virus in hospital

One in nine first-wave Covid patients caught the virus in hospital: Early shortages of testing and PPE is blamed as study shows thousands got ill after being admitted for something else

  • Research into the Covid first wave blamed a lack of PPE for its rapid spread 
  • One in nine Coronavirus patients picked up the deadly virus in hospital
  • Some hospitals had an infection rate 25 times hire than similar sized units 
  • Experts examined data on 72,157 patients who had Covid before August 2020 

One in nine patients in hospital with Covid during the first wave caught it after being admitted for something else, a damning study reveals.

Researchers partially blame the tragic toll on early shortages of testing and PPE and a lack of understanding back then of how the virus spread.

But some hospitals had rates up to 25 times higher than others of a similar type, suggesting localised failings of infection control.

Professor Calum Semple, who worked on the study at the University of Liverpool, said: ‘There will be tragedies behind the story. We do know of people that came into hospital for one problem, caught Covid and sadly died’

Experts analysed data on 72,157 patients in 314 UK hospitals who developed symptomatic Covid before August 1 last year

Experts analysed data on 72,157 patients in 314 UK hospitals who developed symptomatic Covid before August 1 last year.

They estimate 11.3 per cent of these infections were acquired in hospital, given the time it takes for an infected person to show symptoms. It means 5,699 to 11,862 patients may have been infected during their hospital stay in the first wave, according to findings published in The Lancet journal.

But the authors write: ‘This is, unfortunately, likely to be an underestimate, as we did not include patients who may have been infected but discharged before they could be diagnosed.’ Professor Calum Semple, who worked on the study at the University of Liverpool, said: ‘There will be tragedies behind the story.

‘We do know of people that came into hospital for one problem, caught Covid and sadly died.’

The proportion of hospital cases that were acquired after admission peaked at 15.8 per cent – one in six cases – in May last year.

It is now believed to have dropped to between 2 and 5 per cent as availability of testing and PPE has increased and the NHS has learned more about how to contain the spread of the virus. There were also ‘substantial’ differences in rates. The proportion of cases acquired in hospital was as low as 1 per cent in the best performing acute hospital but as high as 74 per cent in the worst.

Professor Semple called for an ‘urgent investigation’ to identify best infection control practice.

He said: ‘What’s more concerning to me isn’t so much the average, it’s the variation.

Professor Semple refused to name the hospitals that had performed well or badly, saying: ‘This is about quality improvement, not a blame game’

‘There were some outstanding examples of good infection prevention control practice and there were some examples of where that was not good. There are clearly some hospitals that are big, busy and have really nailed infection prevention control.

‘So there are lessons to be learned from what they doing so well, that a smaller, quieter hospital should probably have been able to do.’ He said rates have improved during more recent waves despite the emergence of more infectious variants, indicating the NHS has ‘learned the lessons’.

Professor Semple refused to name the hospitals that had performed well or badly, saying: ‘This is about quality improvement, not a blame game.’

Dr Annemarie Docherty, from the University of Edinburgh, stressed: ‘Rates are considerably lower a year on, and people should not be deterred from attending hospital if they are unwell.’

An NHS spokesman said: ‘Outbreaks in hospitals are less common than in other settings. Hospital infection rates account for less than 1 per cent of all Covid cases since the pandemic began.’

Data from the ZOE symptom study shows daily cases rose slightly in people who have had both vaccine doses in the week ending August 7, from 10,751 to 11,043 — 2.72 per cent. They also rose in people who have had one dose — 6,534 to 7,168 (up 9.7 per cent) — and only fell in unvaccinated people — 29,620 to 27,700 (down 6.5 per cent) — but this could be caused by the fact more people were given jabs across the weeks.

Graph shows: The number of hospitalisations in over-65s (brown line) plotted against the number of expected admissions without the vaccine programme (green line). The dotted lines show vaccine coverage in people aged 85 and above, 75 to 84 and 65 to 74 for first (D1) and second (D2) doses

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