A piece by two female journalists in today’s Times, the graphs are only available online:
People without health problems and the under-60s are faring better in the latest wave of Covid-19 than they did in the first, an analysis of hospital deaths by The Times suggests.
Figures from NHS England, however, show that women and white people make up a greater proportion of hospital coronavirus deaths than they did in the spring.
The Times analysed data on English hospital deaths reported up to last Wednesday, classing the first wave as from the beginning of the pandemic to May 19, and the third wave as December 2 to January 6.
People who had no known health problems when they were infected by the coronavirus made up 5 per cent of 25,080 deaths in the first wave, and 3 per cent of 12,125 deaths in the third. Those under 60 made up 8.7 per cent of deaths in the spring, this winter they account for only 5.9 per cent of deaths.
Some doctors have said they feel as if they are seeing more young people on coronavirus wards than they did in April, which may be because inpatient numbers are higher across the board. There were 32,294 people in hospital with Covid-19 in the UK yesterday, up a fifth on the week before and 10,610 above the peak in April.
Experts said that it was possible people with pre-existing health conditions were not benefiting as much from new treatments as those without.
They said that, because people from low income groups were more likely to have health problems, the increased representation of people with chronic conditions in Covid-19 death counts might reflect a lower ability to self-isolate or avoid contact with the virus.
Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said that although a change from 5 per cent of deaths to 3 per cent of deaths was small “if you think about the number of patients that it is, it’s not necessarily so small”.
He said he suspected “that people with pre-existing conditions probably don’t respond as well as people without” to the new therapies that have been developed since the first wave.
The survival chances of hospital patients are thought to be higher now than at the beginning of the pandemic, because of the discovery of treatments such as dexamethasone, a steroid.
Trial results showed it prevented one death in eight in ventilated patients, and one in 25 in patients on oxygen.
Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said “improved knowledge and better clinical practice” would also be playing a role.
In the latest wave 57 per cent of deaths are among men, compared with 61 per cent in the first wave.
White people accounted for 84 per cent of deaths in the first wave. The Office for National Statistics estimates that 85 per cent of the population are white, meaning they were slightly under-represented in the figures.
In the latest set of figures, they account for 89 per cent. However, once people for whom there is no ethnicity data are included, the rate of deaths is not disproportionate to the general population.
Sir Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, said yesterday that a quarter of coronavirus admissions to hospital were for people under the age of 55. He added: “It’s worth remembering that this affects all ages — a quarter of the Covid admissions to hospital right now are for people aged under 55.”
Information released by NHS England showed that the youngest person with no known underlying conditions whose death from Covid-19 was reported in the past 24 hours was aged 26.
Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said it was “too soon” to draw too much from the figures on death rates at English hospitals. He added: “The regions affected in the two waves of the virus have been different enough so far that the ethnicity of those regions may explain the picture being seen. The NHS should continue to treat their local population as determined by need.”
An intensive care consultant has said that some units are experiencing up to 10 times the number of patients referred to them than they would usually see.
Daniele Bryden told BBC Breakfast: “Each day at the moment is becoming increasingly unpredictable, in the sense that normally in the winter we would know how many patients we have and we know how many we’re likely to be asked to be involved with in the next 24 hours.
“But because of what’s been happening with Covid and the rapid rise of admissions, the referrals that we’re getting from the wards are increasing considerably.”
Paramedics have also warned that they are attending fewer patients as a result of ambulances being forced to queue outside of hospitals. Will Broughton, a trustee of the Royal College of Paramedics, told BBC Breakfast: “In some cases we’ve heard of ambulances waiting up to five hours to hand over their patient at hospital.
“On a number of occasions over the Christmas and New Year period I was waiting between two and three hours in some cases to hand over patients.
“The unseen part of that delay is that for all the time that an ambulance is at hospital waiting to hand over, then there is a patient, or a number of patients, in the community that are waiting for ambulances to come and attend them.”
He added: “There’s certainly a risk that people will deteriorate and the people will become more unwell because they’re waiting for an ambulance to arrive or waiting for a space to become available in the hospital.”
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