More than 11,000 people who died from Covid probably caught the deadly virus while in hospital for other reasons, it has emerged.
Freedom of information requests to NHS trusts across England has revealed as many as one in eight people who have died in hospital from coronavirus during the pandemic actually arrived free of the virus.
An investigation by the Daily Telegraph has revealed 11,688 people are listed by the NHS as either probably or definitely catching the virus which killed them while in hospital.
Probable cases are those who tested positive at least eight days after admission, while definite cases require the patient to not have tested positive until they had been on the wards for at least 15 days.
The figures emerged as the government was expected to announce it will be mandatory for all NHS staff to be vaccinated against Covid by next spring.
MPs from all sides have expressed their shock at the numbers, which reinforce fears hospitals have become a breeding ground for the virus which could see a spike in case numbers and deaths as the NHS becomes busier and busier over the winter months.
Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary and Conservative chairman of the health and social care select committee, told the Telegraph: “These numbers are truly shocking. Hospital infections have been the deadliest silent killer of the pandemic. It surely strengthens the case for mandatory vaccination for frontline healthcare staff.”
Barbara Keeley, a Labour member of the health select committee, said: “Nobody goes into an NHS hospital thinking that they will acquire in that hospital a disease that then kills them.
“The nearly 12,000 families of the people who died having acquired these infections deserve openness from NHS England and transparency in examination of this.
“We have to learn the lessons so that scandals like this don’t happen again.”
In addition to the 11,688 deaths from hospital-acquired Covid, the data revealed by the Freedom of information requests also shows about 40,000 people were infected by the virus while in hospital too.
One hospital, Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, had to apologise to hundreds of families last month after its own investigation revealed 151 patients who died after probably catching Covid on the wards.
The trust apologised personally to every victim’s family after their inquiry concluded the lack of private rooms to isolate patients was behind many of the infections. It also concluded a lack of communication with families contributed, and has now created a new role of family liaison officer as a result.
It is the only NHS trust to have conducted an open review of hospital-acquired infections which included staff speaking to the families of victims.
Some hospitals have defied NHS rules to give doctors and nurses better quality masks to attempt to halt the spread of coronavirus within hospitals, The Independent reported earlier this year.
A spokesperson for the NHS said the figures were “flawed” because they included “probable” cases of hospital-acquired Covid, defined by the health service as anyone who tests positive for coronavirus between eight and 14 days after admission.
Some of these people will have actually arrived in hospital already infected but without testing positive, the spokesperson said.
“Covid-19 hospital infection rates account for less than one per cent of all cases since the pandemic began and cases have reduced significantly since the NHS vaccination rollout,” they added.
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