Covid-19 Omicron outbreak: ‘Up to half’ of NSW Covid hospital patients went in for something totally different and were positive in routine testing

With Covid cases going through the roof, Australians are often asked to look at the rate of hospitalisation and deaths as a true indicator of the disease’s impact on their respective states and territories.

However, it has been revealed hundreds of patients counted in the Covid hospitalisation tally in NSW — the worst-hit state in the present outbreak — were not taken to hospital because of the virus at all.

The state’s health minister has revealed many of those listed as having being “hospitalised” for the virus are simply testing positive in routine checks after being admitted for broken bones, labour pains or even mental health issues.

As of Sunday morning, there were 1066 people with Covid in hospital in NSW, with 83 in ICU.

Minister Brad Hazzard admitted over two days during the week, up to half of those cases were in hospital for something else entirely — raising questions about how hospitalisation figures are reported.

“A reasonable proportion of cases being classified as Covid hospitalisations are actually people with other reasons for admission,” Hazzard said.

“Heart attacks, births, falls, none of that stops just because there is Covid. They come into hospital, they have a swab taken and it confirms Covid.

“This shows us it’s out in the community, but we aren’t necessarily seeing that as the primary reason for all of the admissions.”

The most recorded in NSW hospitals so far was 1268 on September 21.

While Hazzard admitted hospitals are under increasing strain, preliminary analysis shows Omicron so far has proved to cause a much milder illness for many people, compared with previous strains.

News.com.au has reached out to other state health departments to see whether they classify Covid hospitalisations in the same way.

Meanwhile, Covid admissions in NSW have doubled in the week since Christmas and are expected to rise even further as a rampant Omicron outbreak tests assurances the state’s health system can manage the surging load.

Sunday’s 1066 hospitalisations are up from the 388 reported on Christmas Day and 458 on Boxing Day, while the number of people in intensive care has risen by 30 – from 52 to 82 – in that time.

Political opponents have savaged the NSW government in recent days for its handling of the Omicron surge, particularly the way it is resourcing an increasingly under-pressure health system.

Premier Dominic Perrottet and Health Minister Brad Hazzard have consistently stated the NSW health system is in a solid position despite the dramatic rise in infections and mayhem caused by an explosion in testing demands.

However, a decision to pare back isolation requirements for hospital staff has been described as a sign the system is coming under intense pressure.

NSW Health revealed on Friday that health workers classified as close contacts will be permitted to leave self-isolation in exceptional circumstances to ensure hospitals and testing clinics are not disrupted.

Staff shortages have become a big issue in parts of the state’s system, with a leaked email claiming one Sydney hospital is “extremely vulnerable”.

Australian Medical Association vice-president Chris Moy said he was getting calls from doctors and administrators who were “extremely worried” about rising Covid cases despite fewer people being hospitalised.

He said staff were being furloughed because they are getting sick or are being deemed close contacts.

“What’s happening there is that the staffing situation is becoming pretty critical at the moment,” Dr Moy told ABC on Sunday morning.

This was “right across the board” but NSW was probably worse than other parts of the country, he said.

“I’m hearing about teams getting completely wiped out, essentially because they are either contacts or they are positive,” he said.

“This is leading to a real problem and a real squeeze at the moment which is causing extreme stress on very exhausted health workforce,” the doctor explained. His comments come after the ABC reported a leaked email showed soaring Covid-19 hospitalisations had left one of Sydney’s largest hospitals “extremely vulnerable”.

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