Almost three years since the first recorded case of Covid-19 in England, in this chart of the week we look at how long patients who have been diagnosed with Covid spend in hospital – updating our original analysis from early 2021.
The number of people in hospital is a reflection not just of the number of admissions, but also of how long those people stay. Our chart plots the median length of stay for Covid patients discharged from hospital each month between March 2020 and October 2022, along with the total number of patients with a Covid diagnosis who were discharged (this includes those who were transferred or died).
Compared to 2020, the median length of stay for the period between January 2021 and October 2022 only decreased by one day – from seven to six days. This demonstrates not only that plenty of people are still in hospital with Covid-19, many are also severely ill, contributing to the ongoing challenge the NHS is facing of managing demand while hospital bed occupancy is very high. Meanwhile, the average (mean) number of monthly discharges has gone up, from 24,400 to 33,000.
Length of stay is interrelated to the number of discharges. While many people are admitted and discharged in the same month, more severely ill patients with Covid will remain in hospital into the following month or longer – so peaks in length of stay follow peaks in discharges.
The number of discharges peaked in January 2021, with over 100,000 patients who had been diagnosed with Covid leaving hospital over that month. Numbers have not come close to this since. However, after dropping massively during the spring of 2021, at least 20,000 people who had been diagnosed with Covid have left hospital each month since that summer, with numbers spiking and dropping less aggressively than they had previously (although waves of the virus are still clearly identifiable in the data).
While Covid vaccines have made it possible for restrictions on day-to-day life to be lifted without causing overwhelming spikes in hospitalisations, the risks posed by the virus have by no means disappeared. People can and, in large numbers, still do, get seriously ill with Covid – we need a health system that can be resilient to this in the long term.
Covid-19 discharges were defined as any discharge from hospital where a diagnosis code of “U071” or “U072” had been recorded at any point during the hospital stay, so will include patients admitted for other conditions who also had Covid, or who acquired Covid in hospital.
Same-day discharges had a length of stay of zero. Median has been used instead of the average, because the data is skewed with some very, very long stay patients, so the median is a better measure.
This work uses data provided by patients and collected by the NHS as part of their care and support. Read more on our website: www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/about/corporate-policies#informationsecurity-and-data
This report uses Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) data (year range 2019/20 to 2022/23). Copyright © 2020, re-used with permission. A data-sharing agreement with NHS England (DARS-NIC-226261-M2T0Q) governed access to and use of HES data for this project.