Health chiefs have come under fire for claims that the NHS has had 14 times as many Covid-19 admissions as it did at this time last year.
Amanda Pritchard, the head of NHS England, told Sky News on Monday: “We have had 14 times the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 than we saw this time last year and we have also had a record number of A&E attendances and indeed a record number of 999 calls.”
Latest published data on Covid-19 hospital admissions in England show that, in fact, the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 is significantly lower than last year. The statistics for November 2 show 7,510 in hospital with Covid-19 in England, compared with 10,397 the same time last year.
Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Fourteen times?! How can anyone believe this? It is so wildly, off-the-scale wrong you wonder whether someone misheard her.” Professor Francois Balloux, director of the University College London Genetics Institute, described Ms Pritchard's claim as “nonsense”.
Latest official data on cases of Covid-19 in hospitals are updated daily, and published on the Government’s own Covid-19 dashboard, based on data provided by NHS England, with a lag of less than a week.
However, health officials said Ms Pritchard had been referring to data comparing August 2021 with the year before.
These statistics show 22,877 Covid-19 admissions in August 2021, compared with 1,629 the previous year - a 14-fold difference.
Although more recent data is regularly published examining Covid-19 hospitalisations, they said Ms Pritchard was speaking in the context of other NHS pressures, including areas where statistics are published less frequently, and with a large lag.
Evidence of a busy NHS
Officials said that when asked about the state of the NHS, the health official - who has only been in the top job since August - looked back to talk about the strain on services this summer, before looking forward to winter.
Writing for Health Service Journal on Monday, Ms Pritchard had referred to the monthly statistics for August as evidence of how busy the NHS was.
While Covid-19 data is published much more regularly, the August data is the latest published to examine numbers of planned operations and diagnostic tests. In the piece, Ms Pritchard said: “The latest monthly figures show that in August, for example, diagnostic tests were up around a fifth and elective procedures up around a third compared to a year ago despite admitting 14 times more Covid patients in hospital.
“And compared with the same period two years ago, pre-covid, GPs saw more patients overall and five per cent more cancer patients were referred for urgent treatment,” she added.
A challenging winter
In the piece, she expressed concern about the ability of the NHS and social care to cope this winter.
“We all know that the next 100 days are likely to be significantly more challenging and I want every member of NHS staff to know that I recognise how difficult the coming winter is going to be. I am concerned by how stretched we - and our colleagues in social care - are, before we have even reached what are traditionally the busiest winter months,” she wrote.
Ms Pritchard has been in charge of the NHS in England since August, when she replaced Lord Stevens, after two years as his deputy. She is the first woman to run the health service.