How Could the Head of the NHS Have Got the Covid Hospital Admissions Figures So Wrong?

We’re publishing a second post about today’s wildly misleading claim by the CEO of NHS England that the number of patients being admitted to hospital with COVID-19 is currently 14 times greater than it was this time last year, this one by the Daily Sceptic’s in-house doctor. He is a hardened former NHS consultant and it takes a lot to shock him – but even he was taken aback but just how inaccurate this statement was.

Earlier today, Amanda Pritchard, the CEO of the NHS, made a statement to the effect that there were currently 14 times as many patients being admitted to English hospitals with COVID compared to this time last year. The purpose of this article is not to point out that this statement is factually incorrect – it’s so obviously incorrect that there have already been plenty of other commentators running fact checks.

Rather, I aim to quantify how incorrect that statement was and consider why the person running the NHS could have made such an egregious error of fact. So far, I have not seen a formal retraction or explanation from Ms Pritchard.

Firstly, the figures as we see them on the official NHS dashboard. In graph 1 I have plotted the number of patients admitted to hospital each day and the number of diagnoses of Covid made in hospital from April to November. The brown line is 2020 and the blue line 2021. It can clearly be seen that currently there are fewer patients being admitted and diagnosed in hospital with Covid than at this time last year. The only point at which one could possibly stand up an argument that there were 14 times as many patients being admitted in 2021 compared to 2020 would be the middle of August. In mid-August 2020 there were roughly 40 patients per day being admitted to English hospitals with Covid. In mid-August 2021 there were about 650 a day – this is approximately 14 times the 2020 figure.

My guess is that someone panicking in NHS England looked at Graph 1 (which they clearly have access to) and trotted out the line that Pritchard was referring to the numbers in August, giving the pathetically mendacious excuse that “these are the latest data we have”.

For clarity, and to illustrate the degree to which the ’14 times’ statement is so deliberately misleading, Graph 2 shows the latest data relating to COVID admissions from the community. COVID admissions to English hospitals from the community have been falling day on day for the last week, mirroring the decline in community testing numbers.

Graph 3 shows the total number of Covid inpatients in English hospitals. Is that what Ms Pritchard was referring to, rather than daily admissions? If so, that doesn’t help her. There are just under 7,000 patients in English hospitals testing positive for Covid – slightly lower than this time last week. This time last year there were over 11,000. Further, it should be borne in mind that the ‘Primary diagnosis data’ published when Sajid Javid took over as Health Secretary clearly shows that the NHS has been deliberately conflating the number of patients testing positive for Covid in hospital with the number of patients in hospital suffering from acute Covid by approximately 25%. The number given as patients in hospital with acute Covid was 5,369 on November 2nd, approximately half the number of patients in hospital with Covid time last year – not 14 times as many.

I invite readers to consider the counterfactual. What would the official NHS reaction have been, had the Daily Sceptic published a piece claiming that there were currently 14 times fewer patients being admitted to hospital than at this time last year? How might the BBC have reported such a clearly false statement?

And yet, here is the link to the BBC daily Coronavirus page – five things you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic this Monday evening.

No mention on the BBC of Ms Pritchard’s interview, nor the subsequent commentary exposing the misleading nature of her assertion. From Amanda Pritchard herself there hasn’t even been a Clintonesque ‘sorry, I misspoke’ moment.

I have commented before about the misleading use of figures by the NHS and the corrosive effect such behaviour has on public trust in institutions and broadcasters. Today marks a new low.

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x