Behind the scenes

Government accused of ‘flawed decisions’ based on ‘misleading’ Covid data

Ministers could have made ‘very different decisions’ with accurate figures, says scientist

Tory MPs have accused the government of making “flawed decisions based on misleading data” after new figures revealed one in four patients classed as a Covid hospitalisation were admitted for other reasons.

Updated NHS data shows that a significant number of patients classified as Covid-19 admissions had another primary cause of hospitalisation. Of the 5,021 patients who were this week listed as being hospitalised by Covid, 1,166 were admitted for other reasons.

This is data that has “regularly been referred to by ministers and at Downing Street briefings”, The Telegraph says, with “hospital pressures” caused by coronavirus admissions “frequently cited as a reason to retain restrictions”.

One leading scientist has said the government might have made “very different decisions about restrictions had it had access to data “which actually measured the situation accurately”.

Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, said: “This data shows that, for the last month, around one in four Covid hospital cases were admitted primarily for another reason.

“At the peak of the pandemic in January, we were talking about close to 40,000 patients in hospital – this new data suggests that back then around 10,000 of them were primarily there for other reasons.”

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith added that the new figures show NHS data collection had been “really poor”, leading to ministers “too often sitting on misleading data, which often leads to flawed decision-making.

“It really does not speak well that they have not been forthcoming in what the real figures are. These figures will be having a direct impact on some of the decisions that have been made and are being made.”

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committe of Tory backbenchers, was another to bemoan the lack thus far of timely data. It was, he said, “frustrating and ridiculous that this was not available months and months ago”.

Earlier this week an analysis of leaked NHS data by The Telegraph found that more than half of patients classed as Covid hospitalisations tested positive only after admission, with the figures suggesting that “large numbers of patients” were being categorised as Covid patients when it was “not the primary cause” of their admission.

The analysis prompted calls for health officials to “urgently” publish data that distinguished between primary Covid admissions and those who were infected during their hospital stay, figures that have now been released by NHS England. 

While hawkish Tory ministers may wish the country had opened up more quickly, Boris Johnson has remained resolute that the delay to the UK’s unlocking meant more people were vaccinated before restrictions were almost completely removed.  

An estimated 60,000 lives have been saved and 22 million Covid-19 infections have been prevented by the UK’s rapid vaccine rollout, according to figures released by Public Health England. The data also suggests more than 52,000 hospital admissions have also been prevented

And ministers keen to leave all restrictions behind may be out of step with public opinion regardless of the revised NHS figures, a new poll from Politico suggests, with almost half of the public believing restrictions were lifted “too soon”.

In a poll of 1,500 people, 46% of respondents said it was “too soon” to lift restrictions entirely, compared to 33% who thought it was the right time. Only 12% said it was “too late” and that restrictions should have been eased earlier. The findings suggest that “Brits largely remain wary of the virus” and will continue to take “a number of precautions whether required by law or not”,  the site says.

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