Thousands of patients who went to hospital to be treated for other illnesses “probably” or “definitely” caught coronavirus during their stay and subsequently died, hospital data show.
On Monday night, MPs condemned the figures as a “scandal”.
The revelation has prompted fresh calls for vaccinations for NHS staff to become compulsory, amid fears that hospitals could struggle to cope during the winter.
It is expected that the Government will announce mandatory vaccination for NHS staff this week, but give them until spring to get the jab.
Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative chairman of the health and social care select committee, said: “These numbers are truly shocking… hospital infections have been the deadliest silent killer of the pandemic… It surely strengthens the case for mandatory vaccination for frontline healthcare staff.”
Using Freedom of Information laws, The Telegraph obtained data from NHS Trusts around England showing the numbers of coronavirus cases that were likely caught in hospital – known as nosocomial infections – and subsequent deaths.
The disclosures reveal that 11,688 people who died in hospital after testing positive for Covid likely caught the virus there – accounting for one in eight Covid deaths in hospital.
One trust – University Hospitals Birmingham – recorded as many as 484 deaths of patients who were thought to have caught the virus on wards during the pandemic. In some trusts, around a third of the patients who had died with Covid had caught the virus in hospital.
The revelations will raise concerns that hospitals have become a breeding ground for the virus and that the NHS has not taken adequate measures to stop it from spreading.
Barbara Keeley, the Labour MP and a member of the health select committee, said: “Nobody goes into an NHS hospital thinking that they will acquire in that hospital a disease that then kills them.
“The nearly 12,000 families of the people who died having acquired these infections deserve openness from NHS England and transparency in examination of this. We have to learn the lessons so that scandals like this don’t happen again.”
Trusts also reported 40,229 “probable” and “definite” hospital-acquired Covid infections.
The data provided by NHS trusts break infections and deaths into categories of “probable” and “definite”.
NHS England has asked hospital trusts to record the data this way, defining “probable” as a patient testing positive between eight and 14 days after admission – and “definite” – where a person tested positive more than 14 days after admission.
But on Tuesday night, NHS England said that the analysis was “flawed” because it contained “probable” cases which means it “will contain cases of people who did not catch Covid in hospital”.
Some trusts refused to disclose their data, prompting questions over transparency, and suggesting that the true number of patients who caught Covid in hospital and died is likely to be even higher.
Whilst issues surrounding infection control are likely to lead to increased nosocomial infections and deaths, the figures are also likely to be influenced by other factors including a hospital’s size, bed occupancy and levels of infection in the local population.
The hospitals where nosocomial Covid deaths represent a large proportion of overall Covid deaths are likely to prompt the most concern.
The data show that at four acute NHS trusts, more than a quarter of patients who died with the virus had caught it whilst in hospital care. Another 34 trusts said that one in five patients who had died after testing positive for Covid had become infected in their care.
The highest proportion was at Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, where 213 patients died after catching Covid on its wards, accounting for a third of all of its Covid deaths.
The other trusts named as having a high proportion of their Covid deaths linked to nosocomial infection said that staff had followed infection control procedures and that they had high Covid rates in their local communities, which is known to push up nosocomial infections.
The Countess of Chester said Covid patients had occupied “more than 70 per cent of [its] general and acute beds at one point” and that it had “consistently high emergency department attendances”, which meant it was “one of the most seriously affected trusts in the North of England”.
University Hospitals Birmingham said it was “one of the largest hospital trusts in the country” and “treated over 18,000 Covid-19 patients… significantly more than any other hospital trust”.
An NHS spokesperson said that staff had “rigorously followed UK Health Security Agency infection prevention control guidance” and that the “root cause of rising infection rates in hospitals is rising rates in the community”.
They said: “Covid-19 hospital infection rates account for less than one per cent of all cases since the pandemic began and cases have reduced significantly since the NHS vaccination rollout.”