Almost 1,000 patients were definitely or probably infected with coronavirus while in hospital during the first three weeks of January, data shows.
The latest hospital-acquired infection statistics from Public Health Scotland reveal 999 patients are likely to have caught the virus on a ward for treatment unrelated to Covid-19 between January 4 and January 24 – more than any other full month during the pandemic.
In the week ending January 24, there were 228 patients who were definitely infected while already in hospital – the second-highest since the start of the pandemic – and a further 81 probable cases.
The data records definite cases of hospital infection where a patient tests positive 15 days or more after being admitted, and probable cases where a positive test is recorded between eight and 14 days after admission.
Both measures are down slightly from the record high of 358 definite or probable infections the week before, but account for a higher proportion of Scotland’s total weekly cases – 2.56% compared to 2.41%.
It takes the total combined figure of suspected hospital infections in Scotland to 4,455, with 3,115 definite cases and 1,340 probable cases.
During First Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Nicola Sturgeon was asked by Scottish Conservative MSP Alexander Stewart what more can be done to stop the “soaring” rate of infections in hospitals.
“There is a significant and very strong focus on infection control in our hospitals,” Ms Sturgeon replied.
“What we find with Covid-19 and what we have found is that the trend of hospital-acquired infection mirrors community transmission, so these figures are still from a period when community transmission was much higher than it is right now.
“We hope that as community transmission has reduced, so too will hospital infection.
“But every single day, those who work in our hospitals focus very, very hard on trying to minimise the prospect and the possibility of infections being passed on.
“One of the key lessons for this in the context of Covid-19 is that the relationship between community transmission and hospital transmission is quite a strong one, so the more we can do to reduce community transmission, the more we help reduce it in our hospitals as well.”
After last week’s figures showed a record high number of hospital-acquired infections during the week ending January 17, Scottish Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie called for the Scottish Government to do more to protect patients and healthcare staff.
She said: “Hospital-onset Covid infections have been increasing steadily for months and infections will keep rising if the NHS continues to struggle with staffing and PPE.
“The SNP still has work to do. Hospitals remain a site of primary care and more efforts must be devoted to protecting both frontline staff and vulnerable patients, otherwise we are fighting a losing battle.
“The SNP cannot become complacent at this crucial stage.
“They must get back to basics, get infection rates down and ensure our hospitals are safe for everyone.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Any rise in hospital-onset cases of Covid-19 is concerning but we are working hard with health boards to manage and reduce this through the winter preparedness and remobilisation plans.
“Our hospitals are operating at a significantly higher bed occupancy now compared to the first wave and the additional pressure as a result of increased admission of patients who have acquired Covid-19 in the community.
“Since the outbreak of the pandemic, we have worked hard to ensure that infection prevention and control measures in hospital and other care settings are robust.
“This includes measures such as the appropriate use of PPE, extended use of face masks and coverings, physical distancing, outbreak management, the expansion of asymptomatic patient-facing staff testing and admission testing to ensure patients are placed in the appropriate pathway.”