Covid Scotland: How many hospitalisations are ‘because of’ the virus?

In Scotland 1,435 people are in hospital with recently confirmed Covid-19.

So how many are in hospital because of Covid-19?

Attempts to answer this question have been difficult – and raised questions of their own.

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Public Health Scotland (PHS) estimated last week 63 per cent of people hospitalised with Covid were admitted because of the disease.

Staff at University Hospital Monklands attend to a Covid-positive patient on the ICU ward on February 5, 2021 in Airdrie, Scotland. TPhoto by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

But PHS used a different definition of “in hospital with Covid” than the one reported daily by the Scottish Government.

These daily figures include patients testing positive in the 14 days before admission to hospital and the first 28 days of their stay.

But the PHS analysis excluded patients who tested positive after the first 48 hours in hospital, as either their cause for admission could not be determined, or they were believed to have been infected through hospital transmission.

If you apply PHS analysis to the definition reported daily by the Scottish Government, you get an estimate of 44 per cent of Covid hospitalisations being because of the disease.

The Scotsman - Edinburgh Evening News Staff byline. Reporter Elsa Maishman By-Line Portrait Head Shot headshot

This ties with recent figures suggesting 41 per cent of Covid positive patients in London had the virus as their primary diagnosis.

Last week’s PHS analysis, based on data from three health boards in early January, found 17 per cent of Covid positive patients either definitely or probably picked up the virus in hospital.

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This was also found by National Services Scotland in its most recent report into hospital-acquired Covid infections, covering the week to December 26.

So why are patients who catch Covid in hospital included in the Scottish Government’s daily reporting?

The Scottish Government said it is impossible to record how far into their hospital stay a patient tests positive in the daily figures, as this takes time to establish.

It would not be right to ignore these patients. Someone could be admitted for something else, but deteriorate after catching the virus, or a patient needing other treatment could have this delayed due to isolation.

But it would be helpful to give more information alongside the headline figures.

Clear information is important – the number of people who contact me following my reports on daily figures of Covid hospitalisations to tell me they are “lies”, and that all of them are hospital transmission, is testament to that.

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