NHS England

Latest NHS Data Suggest Omicron No Worse Than a Bad Cold

We’re publishing a guest post by our in-house doctor looking at the latest NHS data, including ICU data. Conclusion: Omicron hospital admissions in the community are declining and are unlikely to result in severe COVID-19.

Before diving into the numbers this week, I’d like to give a big shout out to Ms. Kate Josephs CBE, formerly the Director of the Cabinet Office Covid taskforce. According to the Telegraph, which broke the story of her leaving party, she “literally wrote the rules” in relation to societal restrictions.

Ms. Josephs took to twitter yesterday to apologise for attending a leaving drinks party on December 17th 2020, when she had been substantially responsible for putting the rest of the country under house arrest. She writes about being “truly sorry” for attending the event – she clearly means she’s sorry for being exposed.

The Telegraph has a helpful timeline graphic showing the dates of the many known social events in Whitehall against a backdrop of prevailing restrictions at the time. I had no idea being a civil servant was such fun! It is interesting that the parties all cluster round periods of maximum lockdown. The brief period in the summer of 2020 was a social desert for civil servants. Maybe they were all on extended holidays?

I love a good laugh, so I’d genuinely like to thank Ms. Josephs. I haven’t laughed so much since Dominic Cummings took a 20-mile drive to test his eyes. By being exposed, this formerly faceless apparatchik has performed a valuable public service. Her hypocrisy reveals the absurdity of what Lord David Frost calls “Covid Theatre” – pointless petty regulations enforced so that the Government appears to be “doing something”. If Kate Josephs really believed in December 2020 that covid was a serious threat to her health, would she have turned up to a drinking session in a cramped Whitehall office? I think not.

Latest Covid Hospital Data: Community Admissions Falling in London, Tailing Off Nationally

We’re publishing the latest update from our in-house doctor, who’s pored over the latest NHS England and ICNARC data packets so you don’t have to. Contrary to some hysterical reports in the media yesterday, it’s actually good news. Community admissions for Covid are falling in London and tailing off across England – and of those classified as being in hospital ‘due to Covid’, 40% were admitted for something else and only have Covid incidentally.

When I was a medical student, a novel called The House of God was required reading. It relates the experience of the fictional American Dr. Roy Basch in his first year as a qualified doctor. The book contained lots of good advice for surviving the junior doctor ordeal including several ‘Rules of the House’. Rule 13 states: “The delivery of good medical care is to do as much nothing as possible.”

Surprisingly often in medicine, doing nothing is the best option. One of my former mentors frequently advised me to “do as little as possible for as long as possible” – his point being that over-hasty intervention is not just unnecessary, but can be actively damaging. This transgresses a key principle of medicine Primum, non nocere – first, do no harm.

Having looked at lots of data from multiple sources over the last few weeks, I am coming to the view that the entire country would be better off in almost every way if doctors stopped ‘doing things’ for a while – particularly if they stopped testing asymptomatic people for the variant du jour.

I will discuss the available information and explain why I have arrived at that conclusion.

Firstly, the admissions from the community in London (as the leading edge of the Omicron wave).

Graph 1 shows the daily Covid admissions from the community in the blue bars vs the same time last year on the brown line. Readers will recall that Professor Sir Chris Whitty warned at the Downing St press conference on December 15th that a big increase in Covid hospital admissions after Christmas was “nailed on”.

It looks like we are waiting for Godot, because the numbers are actually falling, not rising and are currently less than a third of levels a year ago.

NHS Chief Stephen Powis Claims the “Overwhelming Majority” of Covid ICU Patients are Unvaccinated. But Is He Using Out-of-Date Data From July?

Uh-oh. I’ve been ‘fact-checked’ again. This time by the oracles at a website called ‘Logically‘, which I can only assume was a name chosen ironically. The claim they are ‘fact-checking’ is “COVID-19 vaccines don’t work because most people in U.K. hospitals with the virus are vaccinated”, which is a bad start since it’s not a claim I make in the article in question, or indeed anywhere. In fact, in the article I state that on current data the vaccines appear to “protect people well against severe disease and death”, meaning the ‘fact check’ is aiming at a straw man that bears no relation to the piece.

Having stuffed her target full of straw, the author ‘Pallavi’ spends most of her ‘fact check’ wholly missing the target. Alleging that my article “fails to disclose all the details mentioned in the [UKHSA] report, thereby misrepresenting official data and promoting vaccine misinformation”, she points out that the UKHSA cautions against using the raw data to estimate vaccine effectiveness. Indeed it does, and in the article in question I do not use the raw data to estimate vaccine effectiveness. The article is not about vaccine effectiveness. It is responding to a claim in a Guardian article that “in hospital, COVID-19 has largely become a disease of the unvaccinated”. It is making the point that, according to official data, 71% of adult Covid hospital patients and 82% of Covid deaths in the month ending November 14th were in vaccinated people – which is indisputable, and the ‘fact check’ does not dispute it. The point was not to estimate vaccine effectiveness from these figures – to do that we’d need to take into account the proportions vaccinated and unvaccinated, at a minimum – but to counter the claim that “in hospital, COVID-19 has largely become a disease of the unvaccinated”.

In the course of supposedly refuting my errors the ‘fact check’ even quotes from “a recent report by the Official [sic] for National Statistics” which claims that “the age-adjusted risk of deaths involving COVID-19 between January and September 2021 was 32 times greater in unvaccinated people than fully vaccinated people”. This is the same ONS report that the U.K. Statistics Authority publicly criticised for being misleading in its use of statistics for making precisely that claim.

Pallavi writes that “the COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation”, and, libellously, refers to the Daily Sceptic as “a website that often propagates COVID-19 misinformation”. Hmm, unlike Logically, which publishes ‘fact checks’ that attack straw men and cite discredited reports.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times has added its authority to the Guardian‘s unsubstantiated claims about hospitals being deluged with unvaccinated Covid patients. It published an article today stating that intensive care beds are “filled with unvaccinated Covid patients”. The paper quotes Professor Stephen Powis, the National Medical Director of NHS England, saying: “Data shows that the overwhelming majority of people admitted to intensive care with Covid are not fully vaccinated. Since July one in four critical beds have been consistently occupied by a Covid patient, with the latest statistics available showing three quarters of them are unvaccinated.”

Covid Hospital Admissions are Falling in England, as are the Total Number of Covid Patients – and Omicron Looks Unlikely to Change That

There follows a guest post by the Daily Sceptic’s in-house doctor, a former NHS consultant now in private practice. He’s looked at the latest NHS England data and points out that there are fewer than half as many Covid patients in English hospitals than there were this time last year, not 14 times as many, as was claimed recently.

On Friday November 26th, the South African Institute for Communicable Disease released a statement in relation to the Covid variant now referred to as Omicron.

The variant had been first detected on November 12th from specimens collected in Gauteng Province and the molecular structure was characterised by November 22nd. The statement from the South African Institute on November 26th considered that the Omicron variant did not meet the WHO criteria for being either a ‘variant of interest’ (VOI) or a ‘variant of concern’ (VOC). Yet less than 24 hours later, the WHO had classified the Omicron variant as a ‘variant of concern’.

The definitions of variant classification are clearly laid out by the WHO. Classification of a ‘variant’ usually proceeds stepwise, from VOI to VOC. Classification of a VOI requires data collection to verify different effects of the specific variant and upgrading it to a VOC requires evidence that the variant is definitely evading prior immunity or making humans more severely unwell than previously.

I cannot find any evidence in the open sources to date that shows infection with the Omicron variant carries any greater risk of hospitalisation or death than the currently dominant Delta variant. One obvious possible reason for this absence of evidence is that the variant was only identified very recently. Given the known time lag between infection, the development of severe disease and hospitalisation, there has not been sufficient time to assess whether this particular new strain is clinically significant or not. It might be, but we just don’t know.

Simply put, it is not yet clear whether this new variant is a bad one (more infectious and more lethal) or a good one (more infectious but less severe). Opinion is clearly divided on how this situation will develop. Dr. Angelique Coetzee, the Chair of the South African Medical Association, speaking on Marr on Sunday 28th said that so far all the known patients infected with Omicron had very mild symptoms and none of them had been admitted to hospital.

Looking at the ‘charts that matter’ this week, we see a continual reduction in Covid admissions to hospitals (graph one). It’s important to note that all of these admissions are likely to be the Delta variant rather than the Omicron variant.

Graph one

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”.

Head of NHS England Caught Out Spreading Misinformation About Covid Hospital Admissions

Earlier today, Amanda Pritchard, the head of NHS England, made the following claim:

There is no doubt that the NHS is running hot and there are some very real pressures on health and social care. We have had 14 times the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 than we saw this time last year.

Needless to say, this was faithfully reported by various media outlets. For instance, ITV News ran a story on it headlined: “Hospital Covid admissions 14 times higher than this time in 2020.”

There was only one problem: it isn’t true. The number of COVID-19 patients currently in English hospitals is 7,510 according to the Government’s Coronavirus Dashboard, whereas the number in November 2020 was over 11,000.

When the figures being reported by ITV – and Sky News, and iNews – were challenged, NHS England issued a ‘clarification’, explaining that she was comparing August 2021 with August 2020, neglecting to mention that in August of last year the virus had dwindled away to almost nothing. The reason she hadn’t cited more up to date figures, according to the poor flak at NHS England tasked with explaining away this misleading stat, was that “these are the latest figures they have”.

Unfortunately, the cover up was no more true than the initial claim. NHS England has access to more up to date figures than August of this year – the latest figures on the Coronavirus Dashboard, supplied by NHS England, are for November 2nd.