More than half of all patients with Covid-19 in hospital trusts in England are being treated primarily for something else, PA reports.
New figures show that of the 13,023 patients reported as having the virus on 25 January, 6,767 (52%) were not being treated principally for Covid.
This is the highest proportion since these figures were first published in June 2021, and is up from 26% at the start of December.
In London the figure was as high as 64% of patients, while in eastern England it was 62%. Both the Midlands (54%) and south-west England (51%) were also above 50%.
But other regions in England had slightly lower levels, with north-east England and Yorkshire at 46%, south-east England 45% and north-west England 43%.
All hospital patients who have tested positive for Covid need to be treated separately from those who do not have the virus, regardless of whether they are in hospital primarily for Covid or not.
But the growing proportion of patients who are in hospital “with” Covid rather than “for” Covid is another sign that the current wave of the virus has not led to the same sort of pressure on critical care as in previous waves.
A total of 501 patients in all hospitals in England were in mechanical ventilation beds on 25 January, compared with 773 at the start of December – and well below the 3,736 recorded at the peak of the second wave on 24 January last year.
Separate figures published on Thursday show that nearly one in five patients (18%) arriving at hospitals in England by ambulance last week waited at least 30 minutes to be handed over to A&E departments.
This is unchanged from the previous week, but is down from 23% of arrivals delayed for half an hour or more in the week to 9 January.
About 7% of arrivals took more than 60 minutes to be handed over to A&E teams – also unchanged on the previous week.
A handover delay does not always mean a patient has waited in the ambulance.
They may have been moved into an A&E department, but staff were not available to complete the handover.
Analysis of the NHS England data by the PA news agency shows that both University Hospitals Bristol & Weston and University Hospitals Plymouth reported the highest proportion of ambulance handovers that were delayed by at least 30 minutes last week (54%), followed by North West Anglia and Shrewsbury & Telford (both 53%) and Gloucestershire (51%).
Bristol & Weston and Plymouth also topped the list for the proportion of arrivals that were delayed by more than an hour (37%), followed by University Hospitals of Leicester (33%), Gloucestershire (31%) and North Bristol (29%).
There were 85,467 arrivals at A&E by ambulance in the week to 23 January, up almost 2,000 on the previous week and the busiest seven days since the start of December, NHS England said.
Ambulance handover delays are likely to have been influenced by the volume of patients who were medically fit but who were not able to be discharged.
On average more than half of inpatients (59%) fit to be discharged each day last week did not leave hospital, for reasons such as a lack of space in care homes or pending an agreement with local social services over levels of support.
On 23 January, the most recent date for which figures are available, out of 18,075 patients in England who were medically fit to leave, 12,984 (72%) were still in hospital.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, the body that represents health trusts in England, said the figures showed hospitals were “operating under sustained pressure”, despite the recent fall in the Covid cases. She said:
We continue to be concerned about the strain in urgent and emergency care, with the number of ambulances arrivals hospitals the highest so far this winter.
We know that success in reducing delayed discharges is dependent on having enough staff to facilitate discharges and support patients once they are ready to return home or to other community settings.
That’s why we are pleased to see that the number of staff absences due to Covid-19 is now decreasing after the Omicron peak, although it’s important to recognise that the total number of staff absences remains high.
An average of 30,375 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England were ill with coronavirus or having to self-isolate each day in the week to 23 January – down 15% on the previous week, but still nearly double the level just before Christmas.