Hospitals Infected Patients With The Coronavirus: The Guardian reported on 24 March that Marita Edwards had become the first person to die in the UK during the pandemic after contracting coronavirus in hospital.
The otherwise-fit 80-year-old went into the Royal Gwent hospital in Newport on 28 February for a routine gallbladder operation but tested positive for Covid-19 on 19 March and died the next day.
A week earlier consultant cardiologist Dr Mark Gallagher told the Guardian about a 79-year-old woman who was admitted to his hospital in London for a non-urgent operation.
She was diagnosed with Covid-19, which “she almost certainly acquired on our wards” and was put on a ventilator, but died.
About 50 doctors and nurses had treated her, but none had been tested to see if they had the virus, he said.
On 3 March NHS England acknowledged that hospital-acquired Covid-19 was a possibility when it announced that thousands of patients in intensive care would be tested for Covid-19 to try and identify anyone who had caught it there after cases emerged in Europe.
Dr Paul Donaldson, the general secretary of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, a doctors’ trade union, said:
“It seems to be a significant number of anecdotal cases that are reported to us that are nosocomial infection of Covid-19 by many doctors throughout the country. They comment that they are aware of cases in their hospitals.”
Donaldson, who is a microbiologist, added: “They are concerned that a greater number of patients are becoming infected than they would like.
They and we at the HCSA worry that the inadequacy of PPE might be contributing to this increase in nosocomial infections.”
Dr Alison Pittard, the dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, which represents intensive care specialist staff, said: “I’m very concerned that the incidence of [hospital-acquired] infection has gone up during this pandemic.
It’s conceivable that asymptomatic staff may unintentionally infect some patients and that could be a mode of transmission and help explain the rise in intra-hospital infection.”
Pittard said there had been cases of patients being who had been kept alive on a ventilator because of Covid-19 who were then diagnosed with a secondary infection called ventilator-associated pneumonia that they had acquired during their stay.
It is understood that the NHS has no reliable figures for the extent of hospital-acquired Covid-19 but would be issuing guidance to hospitals to help them prevent such spread.
An NHS spokesperson said: “This new global health pandemic meant the NHS has faced an unprecedented health challenge, but hospitals have very established and highly effective mechanisms for infection prevention and control, that clinicians are well trained in to care for desperately unwell patients.
“PHE is conducting a survey to estimate the proportion of asymptomatic healthcare workers that have detectable SARSars-CoVv-2 virus in their nose and throat to inform development of relevant guidance.”
A senior consultant said hospital-acquired Covid-19 could mean that it might not be safe for the growing number of patients who would be coming into hospital for a planned operation, as the NHS attempts to return to normal, pre-pandemic functioning.
They said: “We know from the significant fall in hospital A&E attendances and admissions, many for serious medical conditions, that many people are worried about coming into hospital and catching the virus.
“This shows they are right to be worried; there is real risk. It mirrors the known risk for NHS frontline staff. NHS leadership now have early data to prove this hypothesis.”