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Four in 10 people in Scotland’s hospitals with Covid are being primarily treated for other conditions rather than being admitted because they require medical care for the virus, according to government analysis.

A study by Public Health Scotland (PHS) found that only 60 per cent of acute hospital admissions in Scotland involving patients with Covid were determined to be “because of” the virus.

This figure was a sharp reduction on the 68 per cent recorded in a previous PHS study covering March to August 2021, when the more virulent delta variant was the dominant strain.

PHS said it was important to differentiate between patients who were admitted to hospital “because” they required treatment for Covid with those whose admission was “coincident” with testing positive.

The agency said that this was because “knowing this information can help signal whether population-level changes in public health measures may be warranted, such as a tightening or easing of restrictions”.

In another extraordinary finding that raised questions about Nicola Sturgeon’s restrictions, the study said that only one in 100 Scots who catch Covid require hospital care following the UK’s vaccination programme and the spread of omicron.

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It found that the proportion of people who needed hospital care after getting the virus dropped from 12 per cent in January 2021 to one per cent in December.

When age was taken into account, the report said people were 12.5 more times to be hospitalised with Covid if they are unvaccinated than if they had received a booster or third vaccine dose.

Nearly two-thirds of confirmed, probable or possible omicron cases (64 per cent) recorded since the start of November were found to have been contracted by the under-40s, who have lower vaccination levels.

Despite this, the study said there had been a 31 per cent increase in hospital admissions in Scotland in the week ending December 28, with the highest number involving patients aged over 80.

The findings were based on an analysis of patient records at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Grampian at the end of December and the beginning of January, with both health boards recording “reasonably similar” results.

Changing tack over omicron spread

They further increased the pressure on the First Minister over her hardline restrictions in Scotland after she admitted on Wednesday that she was rethinking her strategy for tackling Covid thanks to omicron’s increased transmissibility.

In a reversal that brings her approach more in line with England’s, she admitted that using restrictions to tackle the variant was less effective after figures showed that the proportion of Scots with the virus doubled from one in 40 to one in 20 over the festive period.

This was similar to many areas of England, where no similar measures on social distancing, licensed premises and large events including football matches were introduced.

The UK Government’s Covid dashboard on Friday showed that Scotland (2,079) had a higher case rate per 100,000 people over the previous week than England (1,787).

Dr Sandesh Gulhane, the Scottish Tories’ shadow health secretary, said that the PHS report had provided “a crucial missing piece of the puzzle through this pandemic” by disclosing four out of 10 Covid patients were not being treated primarily for the virus.

He said: “This is a significant percentage, which could mean the difference between whether restrictions are lifted or increased when it comes to decision time for the Government.”

Noting that the report covered only two of the largest health board areas, he added: “The SNP must commit to providing the full data, as soon as possible, so that we can make sure our Covid response remains balanced and proportionate in the months ahead.”

Confirmed cases in England and Scotland

However, Humza Yousaf, the SNP’s Health Secretary, said: “This analysis suggests that Covid-19 continues to increase the pressure on the NHS in Scotland – with the majority of Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital because of the infection and admissions continuing to affect a disproportionately greater number of older people.”

Prof Jason Leitch, Scotland’s national clinical director, said that patients with Covid imposed an additional burden on the NHS whether they required treatment for the virus or another condition.

He said: “A failing transplant is much harder to manage if a patient has a positive Covid test, for example.”

Prof Linda Bauld, a public health expert who advises the Scottish Government, noted that daily case numbers will become less relevant as positive lateral flow tests no longer need a PCR confirmation.

However, the PHS research also disclosed that Scotland’s troubled Test and Protect contacting tracing system was failing to complete a growing proportion of cases.

This means that attempts to reach the person who had tested positive had failed or they did not provide details of their contacts.

Incomplete attempts made up 12.4 per cent of cases in the week ending December 5, nearly trebling to 35.8 per cent in the week ending December 26. Even among the completed cases, more than a quarter took longer than three days.

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