In recent weeks I have explained that since Omicron hit the UK we have seen fewer children overall in hospital.. With two weeks more data, how has the situation changed with the Omicron variant causing significant numbers of cases?
Still fewer children in pediatric beds than a month ago
Throughout the winter months, we get a weekly update on the number of children in pediatric beds. The total number of children in hospital remained flat and then fell as we headed into the Christmas period, with fewer admissions for some planned medical procedures. As we moved into the new year, numbers have increased slightly but still down on last month. So the Omicron wave of Covid-19 has not led to more children in hospital.
More people in hospital with Covid but not because of it
NHS England updates each week the number of patients in acute hospitals with Covid-19 who are primarily in hospital for other reasons. Until mid-December, around 1 in 4 patients (25%) were in hospital with Covid-19, but not being treated primarily because of it. More recently, this has risen to around 52-55%, indicating that Omicron is adding people to hospital admission numbers who would have been in hospital anyway.
Children with Covid-19 in hospital has risen in recent weeks
Since the middle of December, as the Omicron variant spread significantly in England, the average daily number of children admitted to hospital with Covid-19 has increased. In the seven days to 26 January, there were on average 130 daily admissions to hospital of children with Covid-19. This has fallen as we moved into February and in the 7 days to 09 February there were 86 daily admissions.
But against this backdrop of increasing admissions with Covid-19, the total number of children in hospital overall is lower over the past month. So how do we see a rise in admissions with Covid but no overall rise in the total number of children in hospitals?
Those included as a Covid-19 in the official figures are anyone admitted who either tested positive for the virus in the 14 days before admission or during their stay in hospital. So someone admitted to hospital for a non-COVID reason but then later tests positive, becomes an admission.
With increasing numbers of people in hospital with Covid-19 but are in for other reasons, it is likely we are picking up more children with Covid-19 in the admissions numbers, who would have been in hospital anyway. Two-thirds of children find out they have Covid-19 when in hospital as an inpatient.
Children get admitted every day for a wide variety of reasons and the Omicron variant has not led to an increase in the overall numbers of child hospital patients. Hospitals may have postponed some elective surgery but for the most recent week, 29% of beds were open for use but unoccupied. If Omicron was leading to large numbers of children falling sick, you would expect the spare capacity to be used, but it is not.
While there will be instances where Covid-19 is causing serious illness in children, the evidence points to this being rare. NHS data shows that while there have been increasing children in hospital with Covid-19 the vast majority are discharged within 2 days.
Update – 12 February
The charts were updated to account for another week of data. The story was similar with the exception of falling admissions to hospital with Covid so I added in the extra line related to this.