Leaked data points to a conflation of statistics, as more than half of patients admitted to hospitals in England were tested as COVID-positive after seeking treatment for what could be alternative ailments, according to The Telegraph.
This means the figures from England's National Health Service might suggest the third wave is less severe than reported.
"This data is incredibly important, and it should be published on an ongoing basis," Oxford professor Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, said.
"When people hear about hospitalizations with COVID, they will assume that COVID is the likely cause, but this data shows something quite different – this is about COVID being detected after tests were looking for it."
Heneghan has since urged the government to publish clearer data.
"This needs to be fixed as a matter of urgency," Heneghan stated because the published data could lead the public "toward false conclusions," which distort the real levels of pressures placed on hospitals.
Health officials last month tasked the NHS to provide "a breakdown of the current stock of COVID patients" who sought treatment for the virus and those who sought treatment for other reasons.
So far, no such methodology for the data has been applied. Conversely, the patterns shown in the leaked figures outline that 56% of COVID-19 cases were not detected until after patients underwent standard COVID tests. Hospitals already test everyone for COVID-19 infection, even if they are not showing symptoms.
"It creates an impression that all these people are going into hospital with COVID, and that simply is not the case," one expert who works with NHS data told the Telegraph. "People are worried and scared and not really understanding the true picture – that is what I find despicable."
Greg Clark, the chairman of Commons science and technology select committee, stated he would write to the Health Secretary Sajid Javid, requesting him to publish the data on an ongoing basis.
"If hospitalizations from COVID are a key determinant of how concerned we should be, and how quickly restrictions should be lifted, it's important that the data is not presented in a way that could lead to the wrong conclusions being drawn," Clark said.
"While some of these people may be being admitted due to COVID," he adds, "we currently do not know how many. And for those who are not, there is a big distinction between people who are admitted because of COVID and those are in for something else but have COVID in such a mild form that it was not the cause of their hospitalization."
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