Covid warning for people seeing vulnerable loved ones at Christmas as hospitalisations surge

The growing hospitalisations spell disaster for an already ‘creaking’ NHS, experts warn

Thomas Kingsley
Monday 19 December 2022 10:03 GMT
Doctors are concerned about the number of patients contracting Covid in hospital
Doctors are concerned about the number of patients contracting Covid in hospital (PA Wire)

People going home for Christmas have been warned of the dangers of Covid for vulnerable family members as more than 10,000 people in England could be in hospital with the virus by the end of the year.

It comes as the latest NHS England figures showed there had been a 22 per cent increase in the number of people in hospital with Covid in a week. There were 6,720 people in hospital with the virus on 14 December, up from 5,501 on 7 December, according to data released by the health service.

NHS Covid doctor Dr Daniel Goyal said the jump in hospitalisations is “very concerning” and warned that the rising number of cases is exacerbating the “worst healthcare crisis that any of us have ever experienced”.

“Part of the greater concern is the number of patients who are contracting Covid in hospital settings,” Dr Goyal told The Independent. “What we’re seeing is people picking up Covid in hospital, then being delayed from going home, adding more pressure to the service. It brings the question as to why we haven’t done anything significant to try and reduce transmission.”

The medical consultant, based in the Highlands, said that in the run-up to Christmas there should be stronger public health messaging about the benefits of wearing a mask in communal areas and crowded spaces. He added that the public should consider wearing masks at Christmas gatherings where vulnerable family members are present.

Meanwhile, flu admissions in hospitals in England overtook those for people with Covid for the first time since the pandemic began. Figures show that the rate of flu admissions stood at 6.8 per 100,000 people in the week to 11 December, compared with 6.6 per 100,000 for Covid.

Both figures are currently rising, but the rate of flu admissions has jumped sharply week-on-week – nearly doubling from 3.9 per 100,000 – while Covid admissions are climbing more slowly.

Hospital beds are already at a premium and Covid increases the pressure for space, doctors warn
Hospital beds are already at a premium and Covid increases the pressure for space, doctors warn (PA)

The figures are the latest sign that flu is becoming steadily more prevalent among the population. Hospital admissions among people with flu are now running at a higher rate than in any week during the previous four winters, according to data published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

Admissions are highest among those aged 85 and over, at 23.1 per 100,000 people, up week-on-week from 10.7. There has been a similarly large jump in the rate among children aged four and under, from 8.4 to 20.7.

Coronavirus cases in England are estimated to have climbed above a million for the first time since the end of October, while Scotland and Wales have each seen an increase.

Doctors are calling for stronger public messaging on the use of masks
Doctors are calling for stronger public messaging on the use of masks (Getty)

Research actuary Adele Groyer forecast that if Covid hospital admissions continue on their current trajectory, more than 9,000 people could be in hospital with the virus by Christmas and more than 11,000 by the end of the year.

Ms Groyer added that while a sustained increase at the same rate is unlikely, it is possible. In that scenario, hospital beds in England could potentially run out by 31 December, forcing the NHS to cancel non-urgent procedures to free up space.

Stuart McDonald, partner at LCP Health Analytics and founder of the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group, also forecast that Covid hospitalisations could rise above 10,000 before the end of year, spelling disaster for an already “creaking” NHS.

“At the moment, there are very few hospital beds in the NHS. The system is creaking; the waiting time for ambulances and A&E admissions shows there is a huge logjam in the system,” Mr McDonald told The Independent. “In the context of an NHS which is already really struggling with bed availability, every extra bed taken up by a Covid patient is a problem.”

Mr McDonald also pointed to the problem of patients contracting coronavirus in hospital, which researchers have said accounts for around a third of coronavirus cases.

Professor Azeem Majeed, head of public health at Imperial College London, said the UK currently faces a double threat of Covid and flu, and encouraged the public to get vaccinated against both viruses.

He added that while it’s unlikely that people will scale back their festive plans amid rising hospital admissions, they should consider getting tested before visiting elderly family members for Christmas.

The total number of people in private households in the UK testing positive for coronavirus stood at an estimated 1.3 million in the week to 5 December, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Dr Jamie Lopez Bernal, UKHSA consultant epidemiologist for immunisation, said: “We’re seeing rises in flu, Covid and other winter viruses as people mix more indoors. Covid hospitalisations are highest in the oldest age groups, so it is particularly important that everyone who is eligible continues to come forward to accept their booster jab.

“While Covid-19 and flu can be mild infections for many, we must not forget that they can cause severe illness or even death for those most vulnerable in our communities.”

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