Professor Helen Colhoun, the lead author of the study, said it was crucial for government scientists to factor hospital acquired infections into modelling if they wanted to get a true picture of the pandemic.
“There’s this relentless focus on schools but if the models for the future ignore an important setting for transmission, that seems exceedingly odd to me,” she said.
“There’s been very little detailed discussion of hospital transmission by Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies). And this route of transmission doesn’t even seem to be put in as a component of those models. Which I think is a testament to a lack of recognition of how important it is.
“Unless we have a really full appreciation of how much infection has occurred within hospital settings we will not be prepared for next winter or prepared properly for the future.
“Although hospital transmission may account for a fairly small number of overall cases, it accounts for a substantial number of cases in the vulnerable that lead to serious consequences. That’s what needs to be fully appreciated at a policy level.”
A recent report from Public Health England (PHE) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) suggested that up to four in 10 patients with Covid in the first wave may have caught the virus in hospital, leading to a ‘substantial’ impact on deaths.
Under the least conservative estimates – which included those testing positive within three days of entering hospital or 14 days after discharge – a total of 36,152 people may have been infected in hospital.
In October, the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch launched an inquiry into transmission in hospitals, and made eight safety recommendations which included improving patient testing, ventilation, and isolation.
However the new research shows that cases of hospital acquired infections reached worrying new highs in Scotland months after the report was published.
The latest Scottish research warned that the layout, design and ventilation levels of some hospitals not only make effective disease control “very difficult to achieve”, but they have also served to reduce the effectiveness of shielding.
Recent exposure to hospitals was linked to 36 per cent of severe cases among people with underlying conditions who had been instructed to shield.