THE number of patients in hospital with Covid in Scotland has been slashed from 262 to just 48 following an overhaul in how they are counted.

Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that from now on statistics for the number of patients in hospital with Covid will be based only on people who have tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days.

The First Minister added that this would mean a "small number" of Covid patients who take longer to recover - and spend longer in hospital as a result - will be missing from the daily count.

However, she stressed that this "more narrow but more accurate measurement" of hospital patient admissions will mean were are "able to track [the increase] better from here on in".

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The changes follow an audit of patient numbers commissioned by the Scottish Government.

Using the new method, the number of people in intensive care with Covid has also reduced - though far less dramatically - from seven to six.

The previous tally, which has been used since the outset of the pandemic, had become less accurate over time because it was including "lots of patients" who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 infection but had since recovered and were in hospital for other, unrelated reasons, said Ms Sturgeon.

It had also skewed Scotland's position compared to other parts of the UK, with the First Minister noting that by the end of August "Scotland officially accounted for almost one third of the hospital patients with Covid in the UK – despite having one twelfth of the UK’s population, and a relatively low incidence of the virus at that stage".

She added: "From now on, we will only count patients who first test positive for Covid during their current stay in hospital, or in the two weeks before their admission.

"In addition, we will stop classifying them as Covid patients, for statistical purposes after 28 days in hospital - or 28 days after the date of their positive test, whichever is later.

"This new measure will be an improvement on the old one – but it is important for me to point out that it will not be absolutely perfect.

"The effects of Covid sometimes require hospital stays of longer than 28 days, and so a small number of patients with Covid may not be captured by the measure I’ve just outlined there."

The First Minister said she had also asked Public Health Scotland to develop a tool that would enable separate counting of the small number of patients who remain in hospital more than 28 days after a positive test.

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The issue was highlighted two weeks ago in a blog by Professor Carl Heneghan, the director of the Centre for Evidence-based Medicine at Oxford University, who suggested there was a "potentially substantial" problem with the existing data.

Prof Heneghan noted that, as of August 28, it indicated that there were 255 Covid patients in hospital in Scotland compared to 430 in England.

On a population basis, that meant that the patient rate in Scotland would be nearly nine times higher - 46.8 per million compared to 7.7 per million in England.

As of Monday, there were 782 patients in hospital with Covid in England, 42 in Wales - which continues to count suspected as well as confirmed Covid cases - and 17 in Northern Ireland.

Prof Heneghan triggered a previous investigation into Public Health England's Covid death figures after discovering that PHE was including individuals who had tested positive at any time, as opposed to applying a 28-day cut-off as happens in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

As a result, even someone who had tested positive months before, fully recovered, and been hit by a bus could be classified as a 'Covid death'.

Commenting on the revision to Scotland hospital patient numbers, Professor Linda Bauld, an expert in public health at Edinburgh University, said it was "big drop".

Prof Bauld added: "What this tells us is that, overwhelmingly, the people who have been occupying hospital beds have been people who have had Covid in the past and gone back into hospital for other things.

"For example, these could be elderly patients suffering a stroke or a heart attack, or patients who are in and out of hospital with other conditions.

"So what you're really seeing is a snapshot of the population at an earlier stage of the pandemic, when it was mainly older people who were affected."

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However, Prof Bauld said data on patients who had survived the infection so far but remained critically ill in hospital was also important.

The update on hospital figures came as the First Minister confirmed an additional death in Scotland from Covid, taking to total so far - among patients who have tested positive to the virus - to 2,500.

However, she added that while the number of new cases in the parts of Greater Glasgow and Clyde which have been under an indoor household visiting ban "remains very high and is still increasing" it appeared to be rising "at a slower rate than would’ve been the case without these restrictions being in place".

Since Glasgow, East Renfrewshire, and West Dunbartonshire were placed in a semi-lockdown on September 2, the number of cases in the NHS GGC region has increased by 1,001 (18 per cent) - from 5,583 to 6,584.

The restrictions have since been extended to East Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire, as well as Lanarkshire - which covers a separate health board area.

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Of the 267 cases reported today, 101 were in the GGC region and 59 in Lanarkshire.

Overall, 3.6% of people newly tested for the virus were positive - creeping closer to the 5% threshold where the World Health Organisation says virus prevalence begins to outstrip testing capacity, and a resumption of lockdown is recommended.

The UK Government-run Lighthouse laboratories have been struggling in recent days to process Covid tests from across the UK, slowing the turnaround time for results.

The return of schools in England and a consequent spike in cold- and flu-like symptoms have been blamed, but Ms Sturgeon said she hoped to "see improvement over the next few days".