Thousands of patients still catching Covid on hospital wards as masks are dropped

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Thousands of patients are still catching Covid on hospital wards, analysis shows amid a warning Britain could be facing a new wave of coronavirus.

Just days after the NHS dropped a requirement to wear masks within hospital and GP practices, data shows that 19 per cent of positive patients on wards are likely to have caught it there.

Doctors told The Independent they have struggled to maintain outbreaks on wards, with one warning “hospitals enrich infection”.

The figures, compiled by the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group, show the proportion of people who were likely to have caught Covid in hospital grew by 29 per cent this week.

In the 28 days leading up to the 5 June, more than 2,267 out of 13,416 patients who tested positive in hospitals were likely to have caught it there, analysis by pioneering Covid researcher, Dr Tom Lawton, showed.

One doctor speaking of outbreaks in their trust told The Independent: ‘Hospitals can’t help but spread infection because staff aren’t enabled to limit airborne transmission and it only takes one, on the ward without mechanical ventilation, to lead to dozens of onward cases.

“I know of a recent outbreak which took out 14 staff, we weren’t allowed to test the whole ward; so no idea how many patients got infected.”

Britain’s overall number of cases has risen for the first time in two months, with 953,900 testing positive in the last week compared to 953,000 in the week prior.

Covid hospital admimssions were up by 38 per cent on Friday compared to the week prior, while infections in the community began to rise in some parts of the country following two months of decline.

The rise in Covid admissions comes as the NHS remains under extreme pressure, with A&E warning patients face waits of 13 hours.

Experts have questioned decisions to end the use of masks within hospital, with Dr Helen Salisbury Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies warning it was “dissapointing” and there was no good reason for it.

She said: “clearly there was a lot of hospital acquired Covid and a lot of not testing for it…there does seem to be a fairly central directive is that generally we don’t need masks anymore, which is really, really disappointing. I’m quite distressed that our local trust isn’t actually saying that this is nonsense that I think, I suspect they’re having pressure put on from above. I don’t know that for a fact but there’s no good reason for topping the mask wearing.”

According to an analysis by Adele Groyer, from the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group, the proportion of people who were likely to have caught Covid in hospital grew by 29 per cent this week.

Although, due to the dropping of routine testing the data may underestimate the figures. Hospitals also dropped routine testing of patients upon admission in May.

One doctor speaking of outbreaks in their trust told The Independent: “Unfortunately the scaling back of asymptomatic testing seems to be fairly widespread, and it’s only by people then pushing for off-protocol testing that you see results.”

Dr Kieran Sharrock, BMA England GP committee deputy chair, said “It is clear Covid-19 has not gone away and therefore it is good to see the latest guidance outlining how important it is at the very least for people with respiratory symptoms continue to wear masks in healthcare settings.”

During the briefing Independent SAGE briefing Professor Christina Pagel, said: “We will have a new wave of infections this month. Now hopefully it won’t be as high as the previous two waves and might be lower. But we can’t count on that and either way we are going to see more people becoming infected.”

Professor Pagel said currently there were four variants of Omicron “all increasing rapidly”, whereas the previous wave in March had two variants.

However, Professor John Edmunds, from the government’s SAGE group said “Its very difficult to say where it might and how it might, go different…It [infections] could just bump along.”

In a poll run by Clinically Vulnerable Families UK, which represents thousands of patients across the country, more than 700 reported to be concerned over the dropping of masks in clinical settings while 200 reported they would reconsider getting their NHS treatment.

A spokesperson for the group said: “Healthcare settings are predominantly populated by the elderly and those who are Clinically Vulnerable and they remain the most at risk from Covid infections. One way masking is known to be far less protective and so the Vulnerable must rely on other people to wear masks until other measures, such as HEPA filters to clean the air, are widespread.”

On Thursday Dr Jamie Lopez Bernal, consultant epidemiologist for immunisation and countermeasures at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said: Covid-19 case rates continue to decline, but it remains important to get vaccinated to reduce the risk of serious illness. If you’ve yet to take up the offer of a vaccine or have missed your latest jab please come forward now.

“Recent data has shown a small rise in positivity rates and in hospitalisations with COVID-19. These small increases should be interpreted with caution as data may be subject to delays due to the Jubilee bank holiday.”





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