The majority of patients in London’s hospitals with Covid are being treated primarily for another illness, official data show.
It is the first time since the figures were first reported in June that a large number of virus patients in the capital’s hospitals are being treated for something else, known as “incidental” admissions.
On Jan 11, 51.2 per cent of patients with confirmed Covid in London hospitals were there for another reason, up from 38.2 per cent the previous week.
Across England, 44 per cent of beds occupied by virus patients were being treated for something else, up from 37 per cent the previous week.
The East of England has the highest number of Covid patients who are not mainly sick with the disease, at 52.3 per cent as of Jan 11, an increase of 38.2 per cent on the previous week.
The figures came as the number of patients waiting to start treatment reached six million at the end of November – a new record high.
The number of people having to wait more than a year to start treatment stood at 306,996, down from 312,665 in the previous month but up 60 per cent from the number waiting in November 2020, which was 192,169.
A total of 18,585 people in England were waiting more than two years to start routine hospital treatment at the end of November last year, up from 16,225 at the end of October.
The number waiting more than two years is now about seven times the 2,608 people who were waiting longer than two years in April. NHS England has told hospitals to eliminate all waits of more than two years by this March.
Separate figures show that three in five patients fit to leave hospital are blocking beds, representing more than one in seven of all patients in English hospitals. On Jan 9, some 12,396 patients out of 83,474 beds occupied remained in hospital when they were eligible for discharge.
The latest NHS data also show that emergency care is facing unprecedented pressures, with patients seen within four hours at A&E reaching a record low.
Hospitals must ensure that 95 per cent of patients are admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours after presenting at emergency departments. However, just 73.3 per cent in England were seen within the target time in December, down from 74 per cent in November and 80.3 per cent in December 2020.
Saffron Cordery, the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said the latest figures showed the “intense pressure” trusts are under.
“We continue to be deeply concerned by the strain across urgent and emergency care, with the highest number of category one ambulance calls on record and an increase in those waiting 12 hours or more for admission in emergency departments,” she said.
“There has also been a worrying increase in the number of beds occupied, remaining at a very high level, including in adult critical care wards. At the same time, the number of delayed discharges continues to grow, given the limitations on capacity in social care as some care homes had to reduce new admissions due to the rise of omicron.”
The data also show the number of NHS staff off work for Covid reasons appears to be falling. While there has been a two per cent rise week-on-week between Jan 2 and Jan 9, the daily data suggest that, after reaching a peak of 49,941 on Jan 5, the numbers have dropped every day since then.
Overall, 40,031 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England were absent for Covid reasons on Jan 9, up two per cent on the 39,142 the previous week.
Prof Stephen Powis, the national medical director at NHS England, said: “Omicron has increased the number of people in hospital with Covid at the same time as drastically reducing the number of staff who are able to work.
“Despite this, once again, NHS staff pulled out all the stops to keep services going for patients – there have been record numbers of life-threatening ambulance call-outs, we have vaccinated thousands of people each day and that is on top of delivering routine care and continuing to recover the backlog.
“But staff aren’t machines and, with the number of Covid absences almost doubling over the last fortnight and frontline NHS colleagues determined to get back to providing even more routine treatments, it is vital that the public plays their part to help the NHS by getting your booster vaccine if you haven’t already.”