Coronavirus in Hampshire: More than 300 people contract Covid while in hospital

MORE than 300 people are believed to have contracted Covid-19 in hospitals in Winchester, Basingstoke and Southampton at the start of the pandemic, it has been revealed.

By Maria Zaccaro
Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 5:42 pm
A Covid ward
A Covid ward

A total of 313 patients are believed to have contracted coronavirus in hospitals in Southampton, Winchester and Basingstoke while being there for other reasons between March 2020 and January 2021.

Of those, 93 died with Covid-19 on their death certificate .

Data from a Freedom of Information Act request refers to the so-called ‘definite hospital acquired Covid’ - infections acquired 15 or more days after hospital admission.

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Healthwatch Southampton said it was ‘extremely concerned’ when the figures were first published.

But it also said it understands that infection control measures are now ‘even more vigorous’ and people should not be worried by the need to attend hospital.

Hospital trusts said they are now ‘much better prepared’ and ‘continue to do everything possible to minimise hospital viral spread’.

According to the data, between March 2020 and January 2021 University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust (UHS) recorded 119 cases of ‘definite hospital acquired Covid’.

Of those 119 patients, 38 died with Covid -19 listed on their death certificate.

It comes as between March last year and January this year the trust had a total of 2,028 Covid positive inpatients.

Over the same period of time, there were 114 cases of ‘definite hospital acquired Covid-19’ at the Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital and 80 at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester.

Of those 194 patients at both hospitals, the number of those who died with Covid-19 on their death certificate was 31 in Basingstoke and 24 in Winchester.

Harry Dymond, chairman of Healthwatch Southampton, said: ‘Healthwatch Southampton was extremely concerned when these figures were published, and our thoughts are with the families of those involved. To put this into context, we must realise that the pandemic was an unprecedented challenge to the NHS in general. We understand that infection control measures are now even more vigorous.’

‘Healthwatch was keen to ensure that the hospital responded to its “duty of candour” by being open and honest with patients and relatives and that it learned from these deaths. Even though hospital acquired Covid-19 is an important issue, it is important that people should seek medical help as required and not be worried by the need to attend hospital.’

The data revealed that the highest numbers of ‘definite hospital acquired Covid’ at hospitals in Southampton, Winchester and Basingstoke were recorded in spring and autumn 2020 and in January 2021.

Southampton Test MP Alan Whitehead said it is ‘no surprise’ that the highest figures were recorded at the beginning of the pandemic and during the second wave.

But he added: ‘The government should have been much more decisive during the second wave and implemented a circuit breaker lockdown much sooner than they eventually did in November. This could have helped stop community spread including hospital acquired infections.’

It comes as UHS recorded the highest numbers of hospital acquired Covid infections in January this year with 39 cases and listed a new variant and the easing of lockdown restrictions for Christmas among the reasons behind the spike.

Southampton Itchen MP Royston Smith said: ‘The disease is highly transmissible. It is regrettable that people acquired Covid in a hospital setting. I know that healthcare staff did everything they could to avoid this happening but we shouldn’t forget that healthcare staff were infected in this way too.’

Cllr Ivan White, cabinet member for health at Southampton City Council, said he hopes that all lessons learnt will be used to prevent transmission of infections in hospitals in the future.

He said: ‘It is very easy to be critical of the hospitals unable to prevent hospital acquired Covid infections but we now know it is a very easily transmitted virus and the conditions at times were extremely difficult and challenging. My hope is that the reasons for the hospital acquired transmissions will be thoroughly investigated as I'm sure they have already.’

But Cllr Lorna Fielker, shadow cabinet member for health, said: ‘Only an independent public inquiry into how the government and NHS responded to the pandemic, will give the answers needed to understand what more could have been done over that time to reduce hospital acquired infections.’

A spokesperson for University Hospital Southampton said: ‘Patients are individually risk assessed to ensure we have appropriate practices in place according to their planned healthcare pathway. And all cases where a patient has acquired Covid-19 within our hospital have been rigorously investigated and we are individually in touch with those patients’ families. Our intention each time is to provide full candour and share and adopt learnings to improve practice and outcomes.’

The trust said ‘strict measures’ such as restricted visiting, the wearing of PPE and social distancing are in place.

It added: ‘As one of the largest hospital trusts in England, we admitted high numbers of patients with the virus. In early 2021 those numbers rose, with the arrival of the highly transmissible Delta variant. In spite of this, thanks to our stringent infection prevention measures and the relentless hard work of our staff, our clinical outcomes and survival rates remain among the best in the country.’

Measures such as restricted visiting, the wearing of PPE and social distancing are also in place at hospitals in Basingstoke and Winchester run by Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

A spokesperson for the trust said: ‘Each case where a patient may have acquired Covid-19 within our hospitals is taken very seriously and rigorously investigated. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to determine how these occur, not least because the virus has a very variable incubation period.

‘Everyone in the NHS has been on a steep learning curve since March last year and we are now much better prepared, having continually adapted and improved our processes in light of highly transmissible new variants of Covid-19, emerging evidence and in line with national guidance.’

The trust said a range of measures are in place including regular testing for patients.

‘The layouts of our hospitals have been adapted to ensure patients with Covid-19 are separated from other patients, and advanced air scrubbers are in place to further improve ventilation. We have also vaccinated thousands of members of staff,’ the trust added.