SNP ministers are hoping more Covid patients can be treated at home with anti-viral medication to stem soaring hospital admissions despite evidence suggesting 40 per cent of those on wards with the disease are actually being treated for other ailments.

The Scottish Government has also been urged to focus on making improvements to the Test and Protect system after data revealed that World Health Organization (WHO) targets have been missed due to a soaring number of cases being dealt with.

A study by Public Health Scotland investigated admissions to hospitals in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Grampian on certain days in the first week of January.

The research found that only 60% of hospital admissions are "because of Covid", including both definite and probable cases, compared to 40% of admissions of people who are being treated for other things but happen to have Covid.

The Herald: The proportion of hospital patients at two health admitted 'because of Covid'The proportion of hospital patients at two health admitted 'because of Covid'

It is the first analysis since the Omicron variant became dominant, and compares to around 68% between March and August when Delta was the main strain circulating in Scotland.

The remainder are patients 'with' Covid who have tested positive for the virus but are in hospital for other reasons. However, in most cases it was not known which variant had caused the patients' infections.

But a top medic has warned that the data “is no way cause for reassurance” with increasing numbers of hospitalisations caused by the more transmissible Omicron variant.

READ MORE: Covid Scotland: Six in 10 hospital patients admitted 'because of' virus

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said the data “suggests that Covid-19 continues to increase the pressure on the NHS in Scotland”.

He added: “The next few weeks are going to be extremely challenging for the NHS on a number of fronts.

"We have the pandemic backlog that has built up, together with high levels of staff absences, again much of that because of Omicron and its higher transmissibility. And we are treating over 1,300 people who are in hospital with Covid.”

Mr Yousaf stressed that the NHS will try and treat more people who test positive with Covid, who previously may have been admitted to hospital, at home with anti-viral medication.

He said: “This approach will hopefully help us with our capacity challenges and pressures.

“I’ve been very clear this will be the most difficult winter in NHS history and that’s why we’ve announced £300 million of measures to increase NHS and social care capacity as part of our strategy to simultaneously tackle the various issues combining in extra A&E waits.”

READ MORE: Covid Scotland: NHS Grampian poised to declare 'major incident'

But Scottish Labour has called for more data taken from health boards across Scotland to be published in order to get a clearer picture of the impact of the Omicron variant on hospital admissions.

The party’s deputy leader and health spokesperson, Jackie Baillie, said: “The publication of this data is welcome as it allows us to understand how the Omicron variant is affecting the people of Scotland and the NHS.

“But the data remains incomplete for the whole of Scotland and only a wider study will provide the conclusive findings that we need.”

She added: “That said, we should welcome the fact that the rate of hospitalisation appears to be lower than for the Delta variant, but it is clear that our NHS is under severe strain, not least due to staff absence, and lives are being put at risk.

The Herald: Labour's Jackie BaillieLabour's Jackie Baillie (Image: PA)

“A&E departments are at breaking point, staff are working round the clock, delayed discharge is increasing and the government has warned that the situation may deteriorate even further.

“That’s why it’s vital that the SNP Government matches its rhetoric with action and pulls out all the stops to protect public health and our national health service.”

Professor Andrew Elder, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh said: “The figures released by PHS today indicate the rapid rise of the Omicron variant in the community and its increasing impact on hospitalisation.

“It is worth remembering that the minority of patients admitted to our hospitals currently test positive for Covid, and of that minority, about 60% are judged to require admission to hospital 'because of' Covid rather than being coincidentally infected with it. That situation may change as the virus moves into older populations and as such, the data is in no way cause for reassurance.”

He added: “Although the current focus is on hospital admission and care, the problems we currently see in hospital reflect the widespread impact of the virus across the entire health and social care system.

READ MORE: Covid Scotland: Testing and isolating has to adapt to Omicron - and the post-vaccine pandemic

“The healthcare workforce is affected in both the community and in hospital, with consequent impact on the availability of care at home to prevent admission and allow easy discharge.

“It is only by addressing workforce issues across the entire health and social care sector that the current problems will be avoided during future winters.”

Scottish Conservative MSP, Murdo Fraser, has also warned the data is “not a complete answer” for the situation with hospital admissions across Scotland.

He added: “We cannot expect the public to respect decisions that are made affecting their lives without the background information being made available.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, added: "Opposition parties have been calling for clearer data on the impact of Omicron on hospital admissions for weeks. An analysis of two health boards doesn’t really satisfy that request.

“Furthermore, we know that Delta still accounts for 10% of Covid infections in Scotland, but there is no breakdown on acute admissions by variant type. That information is crucial to understanding the impact of Omicron on our lives.

“The First Minister promised Parliament that Friday would be the day we learned how many people were in hospital because of Omicron severity, but the data published today doesn’t answer that question.”

Meanwhile the Scottish Conservatives have claimed that figures show the Test and Protect system is “faltering under severe strain”.

READ MORE: SNP Government hits back at 'totally unfounded' claims John Swinney spun Covid data

The Public Health Scotland document shows that Scotland fell significantly short of the World Health Organization’s target of reaching 80% of contacts within 72 hours last week.

In the week ending December 26, 54.2% of contacts were reached within the 72-hour timeframe after taking a test – with the remaining 45% either not contacts of look longer than 72 hours to be contacted.

The study also found that using another measure for the same week, 69.6% of contacts were contacted within 72 hours when entered into the case management system – also falling short of the WHO’s 80% target.

The report also highlights that one third of contact tracing cases were incomplete in the last week – more than triple the rate seen just one month ago.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, said the system urgently needed more funding to cope with the soaring number of cases.

He said: "These latest figures for Test and Protect are very worrying. They suggest the testing system is faltering under severe strain.

“Humza Yousaf must urgently dedicate more resources towards Test and Protect to stop this vital service floundering just when we need it most.

“We have seen throughout this pandemic that effective contact tracing can be the difference between getting the virus under control and letting it run out of control.

“It’s of vital importance that the SNP Government urgently gives Test and Protect more resources. Humza Yousaf cannot leave existing contact tracing workers without extra help.”