Thousands of Britons died of Covid-19 after catching it in hospital. Experts warn that the virus is now being spread by NHS workers. This was the result of an investigation by Mail on Sunday.
During the first wave of the pandemic, patients admitted to hospital for non-Covid-related illnesses became infected in a no-Covid ward and then died.
Hospital-acquired infections were responsible for at least one in ten Covid deaths during the first wave. This is evident from data published by this newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act.
However, prices vary widely. At the Countess of Chester Hospital in Chester, 88 of 231 Covid-19 hospital deaths were acquired – nearly 40 percent of all Covid-19 deaths from the Trust. And in Bristol and Weston, 51 of 151 Covid-19 deaths were related to hospital-acquired infections, a third of all Covid-19 deaths at the Trust.
Other hospitals did far better. The Royal Free Hospital in London, one of the largest hospital trusts in the country, recorded 504 deaths from Covid-19 between March and August, making it one of the hardest hit in the country. However, fewer than ten of them were acquired in the hospital.
During the first wave of the pandemic, patients went to hospital for treatment for non-Covid-related conditions, got infected in a non-Covid ward, and then died (file photo)
More than 100 NHS trusts responded to our data request and gave the clearest picture of outbreaks in UK hospitals yet.
Although the numbers refer to all deaths from Covid from March 1 to August 31, experts urge action to protect the public as the problem is described as "ongoing".
Some say part of the blame lies in poor protocols for controlling hospital infections and the spread of the virus by staff among themselves and then to patients.
Dr. David Nicholl, a Birmingham-based consulting neurologist who has been investigating the problem of hospital-acquired Covid, described the situation as "shameful" and accused NHS leaders of "acting like North Korea" by disguising numbers "when they do." how South Korea should behave "& # 39; clearly in the reporting.
"Transparency is terribly important, the data should be in the public domain," he added. "It's ridiculous that a newspaper had to do a FOI to get this information." NHS England confirmed our results yesterday.
Professor Tom Jefferson, an epidemiologist with the Center for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University, alleged hospitals had failed to implement many basic infection control rules.
A public health insider at a northeast hospital confirmed that patients with Covid were segregated but doctors, nurses and cleaners would switch between these wards and gather socially.
"Transmission in the hospital is not just between patients, but also between staff and patients, staff and staff," they said.
Thelma Lukehurst, 88, believes her husband Dick, 91, died in July after catching Covid-19 in the hospital after breaking his leg. Dick tested negative for the virus on arrival, but four days later, Covid symptoms began to develop and he tested positive
“In the wards, staff were in full PPE, but they would gather around the nurses' stations, taking off masks while looking through notes, or sharing computer terminals and crowding into offices after shifts to share snacks.
“After a shift, the only place you could change would be a staff loo or a cramped unisex changing room. Or they wore their uniforms and even scrubbed to and from work. All of these things are against every rule of infection control. & # 39;
As a result, the virus has ravaged some hospitals. A total of 139 trusts out of 223 in England responded to our request, 93 of which provided the information we requested.
Officially, Covid, which was diagnosed between seven and 13 days after admission, is a "possible" hospital infection and after 14 days a "definitive" infection.
In total, the 93 trusts reported 10,184 Covid-19 deaths in hospitals and possibly 1,051 or definitely the virus in non-Covid wards – roughly one in ten.
That means that of the roughly 30,000 deaths recorded in NHS trusts during the first wave, at least 3,000 could be hospitalized with coronavirus. The trusts also reported a total of 20,000 employees who tested positive for Covid over the six-month period. 111,000 were unemployed either because they had the virus or were suspected of having it.
Thelma Lukehurst, 88, believes her husband Dick, 91, died in July after catching Covid-19 in the hospital after breaking his leg. Dick tested negative for the virus on arrival, but four days later, Covid symptoms began to develop and he tested positive.
The couple, who had been married for 43 years, had been screened for three months before Dick was admitted to William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent. "I miss him so much," said Thelma. "Everyone was clapping for the NHS, but all I could think of was what happened to my husband."
Covid Q&A: Can I visit a cared for relative now and what is happening in Liverpool?
What are the rules for nursing homes now?
New government rules apply that allow families in England to visit relatives in nursing homes – as long as this is done "in a Covid-safe manner". Suggestions in the guide include floor-to-ceiling screens between visitors and residents, window visits, and visits that keep the family in the car.
So yes you can visit, but charities say the new advice is impractical. Julia Jones, co-founder of the dementia charity John & # 39; s Campaign, said, "When people are in the later stages of dementia, when people are in love, when people are near the end of their lives, they need to be holding hands . "
Will the new Liverpool testing scheme tell us exactly who has Covid?
A pilot project in Liverpool offers tests for every half a million residents. The new "Lateral Flow" tests do not need to be sent to a laboratory and are designed to give a result in 20 minutes.
However, questions have been raised about their accuracy, as the kits can only provide results on those with the highest "viral load" in the field. This means that Covid will be detected in people with large amounts of the virus present in their nose and throat – which could rule out those who just caught it.
According to Dr. Emily Adams, a lecturer at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, found the virus about 75 percent of the time.
That means Liverpool residents who tested negative with both a swab and a side-flow test cannot say for sure that they do not have Covid-19.
Scientists responsible for containing hospital outbreaks say hospital-acquired cases of Covid-19 were "a big problem" in the early days of the pandemic, but say hospitals are now "perfectly safe".
However, this week's reports show that hospital-acquired infection rates will rise again when the country hits a second wave.
NHS England only released data on hospital-acquired infections in September.
Currently, 17 percent of Covid-19 infections in England have occurred in hospitals, and in the North West that rate is 25 percent.
Numbers for individual hospitals are buried in tables on the NHS England website and are not easy to find.
Dr. Nicholl said he was currently receiving reports of hospital outbreaks "across the country" and said that radical action is needed immediately: "Everyone is doing their best, but that is not the same as the best."
Prof. Jefferson, part of a team tracking hospital outbreaks, said, "The government did not learn from the mistakes of the first wave."
Development raises the ghost of the deadly superbugs MRSA and C Difficile, which spread like wildfire in hospitals in the 1990s and early 2000s, killing thousands. Initially, this increase was attributed to declining NHS cleaning standards, but subsequent research found that hospital staff hygiene was to blame, as many did not wash their hands between patient treatments.
At the start of the coronavirus crisis, NHS England instructed hospitals to set up “hot” and “cold” zones to separate Covid patients from non-Covid patients.
Employees were also segregated based on who they were treating and instructed to distance themselves socially from other employees at all times. However, a damn report from the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch watchdog warned workers that this did not happen as they were forced to congregate in areas to use computers, access records, and take breaks.
According to the report, older hospitals were at higher risk for outbreaks due to narrow corridors, small rooms and poor ventilation.
Other studies suggest that moving patients between beds on wards to make room was another vector of infection.
The coronavirus outbreak in hospitals began as early as March and peaked in April in line with the rate of infection across the country. It wasn't until June that NHS England took action.
In a letter sent to all trusts on June 9, management was told that minimizing close contact between employees, particularly in central workplaces, was "of paramount importance in reducing health-related infections". As the infections acquired in the hospital persisted, a second letter was sent on June 24, emphasizing that staff must wear face masks at all times.
But Prof. Jefferson says this was too little too late and that lives could be saved if more attention had been paid to infection control in hospitals.
The Care Quality Commission, the NHS regulator, has launched investigations into a number of trusts. One is East Kent, where Thelma Lukehurst's husband Dick died.
Dick, a former BT engineer, broke his thigh after falling in his garden. He was taken to the William Harvey Hospital for surgery.
Thelma says he's in a good mood. & # 39; He called me after the operation. He was an engineer and found it all very interesting. & # 39;
But doctors told Thelma her husband would have to stay in the hospital while his leg recovers. & # 39; He hated it in there. I wanted to get him out, but they said he had to stay.
"When we spoke on the phone, he said:" At least I don't have Covid. "Of course I said you didn't, where would you get it from?"
Thelma says Dick's community was small and busy, and people moved in and out. She visited the hospital to drop off some of Dick's belongings and said she was amazed at the lack of precautions.
She said, “I just got in. Nobody asked if I had been tested. Nobody asked me where I was going. Many employees did not wear masks. & # 39;
Soon after, Dick tested positive for Covid. His breathing became difficult, and soon he was too weak to hold up a phone.
Doctors told Thelma that they could hardly help him as his condition worsened. When it became clear that Dick was going to die, the doctors allowed Thelma one last visit. Her husband was too weak to speak.
The next day, Thelma returned to the hospital. "A doctor pulled me aside and said," Sorry, dear, it's over. "I could only think how terrible his last days must have been. In bed, alone and unable to move. I felt empty after that, but now I'm angry – about how negligent it all was. He must be We got isolated for three months without seeing anyone and then he goes in and catches it right away. Hospitals should be the only place you can be safe, not the place you have a fatal one Get sickness. & # 39;
Thelma wrote to the hospital in August asking them to explain what had happened to her husband. It still didn't respond to her.
Infections acquired in hospital were at least one in ten Covid deaths during the first wave, according to the Freedom of Information Act (file photo).
When The Mail requested East Kent hospital-acquired infection rates on Sunday, it decided to withhold the information as it was "potentially misleading" and said it would publish its own report soon.
A spokesman said: "It is unlikely that Mr Lukehurst acquired Covid in the hospital. His investigation found that Covid was not a cause of death. & # 39;
In fact, the investigation into Mr Lukehurst's death revealed that he had died of acute bronchopneumonia, with Covid-19 being a factor. The Care Quality Commission inspectors who visited William Harvey Hospital confirmed Thelma's fears and found a catalog of errors.
Nurses wore face masks that did not completely cover their mouth and nose, staff did not use hand gel when entering and leaving Covid stations, and Covid patients were not masked when moving around the hospital.
Dr. Jonathan Hewitt, co-author of a Cardiff University and King's College London study of hospital-acquired infections with Covid-19, said greater awareness was needed among staff. He said, “In hospitals, it is impossible to completely isolate staff from one another. However, there are steps employees can take to ensure that the transmission is minimal. & # 39;
According to Dr. Hewitt employees must ensure that they wash their hands regularly and are wearing the required PPE before handling patients.
Last week, NHS Wales chief Dr. Andrew Goodall suggests that hospital transmission rates are rising again, accounting for one in 40 confirmed cases. And numbers suggest a similar surge is taking place across England.
At the Epsom and St Helier University Trust in Surrey and the University Hospital Dorset Trust, more than 44 percent of the Covid cases registered in the past week were acquired in the hospital, according to NHS England. In the same week, the Liverpool University Hospitals Trust, currently one of the worst Covid-hit trusts in the country, recorded a hospital-acquired infection rate of 27 percent.
Some hospitals have started battling hospital-acquired infections.
Croydon University Hospital in South London has set up a "mini-hospital" for reasons of trust to separate patients undergoing routine treatment. Patients are expected to be quarantined for seven to 14 days and tested three days before their surgery. We visited last week and saw the system in action. The so-called voting center has its own entrance so that patients can stay separate from potential Covid cases visiting the hospital.
Employees working there are not allowed to enter the main hospital, which is now reserved for Covid patients and outpatient day clinics, for 12 hours and are tested regularly.
Prof. Jefferson says it is "an obvious step". "For example, we could have brought Covid patients to the Nightingale hospitals and brought all other patients to safety."
The Countess of Chester Hospital, NHS Trust, said, "To ensure the safety of patients and staff, we have put in place rigorous infection, prevention and control measures, including regular swab tests, adequate isolation, and cohort of known and suspected cases of Covid-19 . "
Commenting on our report, Bristol University Hospitals and Weston NHS Trust said, “The numbers refer to patients who have died and tested positive for Covid-19.
"This doesn't mean they died of a Covid-19-related disease."
The other trusts mentioned were asked for comment and said deaths from Covid-19 are not always the same as deaths from Covid-19.
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