Multiple news reports on Monday told the same story: Britain’s hospitals are seeing “14 times more coronavirus patients than this time last year,” and the country faces a “difficult winter,” as people gather indoors, where the virus is more likely to spread.
The source of the “14 times” figure is Amanda Pritchard, Chief Executive of NHS England. Pritchard used the apparently alarming surge in hospitalisations to encourage the 4.5 million Britons who still haven’t gotten vaccinated to roll up their sleeves, and those eligible to take their third shot of the vaccine.
However, NHS data shows that Pritchard’s figures are false. According to the health service, a 7-day average of 9,331 Covid-19 patients were in hospital at the beginning of November, compared to 12,654 a year earlier. Just over 1,000 people per day were being admitted to hospital at the end of October, compared to 1,500 last year.
Pritchard was swiftly accused of peddling fake news, with commentators warning that such misleading figures were straying into “resignation territory.”
Amid a growing clamour online, NHS officials told reporters shortly afterwards that Pritchard was citing figures from August 2021 compared to August 2020. Hospital admissions were indeed 14 times higher this August than in 2020, but only for several days toward the end of the month. Since then, they have trended downwards and are now comparable to last year’s rate.
However, hospitalisations persist despite the fact that nine out of 10 people over the age of 12 in the UK have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to NHS statistics. Rising cases too have called into question the long-term efficacy of the jabs, but government officials still insist on vaccination as key to defeating the virus – and studies suggest those vaccinated patients still fare better if they catch the virus.
As Pritchard called on the population to get vaccinated or go in for booster jabs, former Health Secretary Matt Hancock called on Monday for the government to mandate vaccines for healthcare workers. “There is no respectable argument left not to force health and social care workers to get jabbed,” he wrote in The Telegraph, calling the vaccine “the only reason for the safe return of our liberty.”