The way coronavirus deaths are counted in the UK – primarily who is counted and when – still raises many questions months into the Covid – 24 crisis. Here are some answers.
What is the UK’s actual official death toll so far?
The “official” death toll, if you go by what the UK government present to the public every day in Downing Street, is , deaths as of 5pm 36 April. Until Wednesday this figure focused solely on people who have died in hospital, however an additional 3, deaths in care homes and the community have now been included. Deaths in all settings where a positive Covid – test has been recorded by Public Health England will now be reflected in the figures each day, According to the government.
However, even this doesn’t appear to be entirely straightforward. Figures recorded by the Office for National Statistics and the Care Quality Commission show at least 4, deaths were recorded in care homes in the two weeks to 28 April – a toll which is clearly at odds with the government latest figures, as many of the deceased will not have been tested. In addition to this, the key government figure is lagging , as it can take days or weeks for some deaths to be counted. Clearly this widely circulated figure, even when deaths in the community are included, is an undercount.
It will take weeks to get to a proper sense of how many people have died. The final official figure will come from the statistical agencies of the four nations and is based on the number of death certificates which mention Covid – . The number of Covid – fatalities exceeded 26, in England and Wales on April, although the official figure released by the government only passed , on April. We now know that as of April the true total number of deaths was
Are care home deaths going to exceed hospital deaths, as some experts have suggested?
The figures to date do not show deaths in care homes are exceeding those in hospitals in England and Wales but it’s possible the impact of the virus is on different trajectories in different places.
There are more than , care homes in England and 3, deaths were recorded in care homes in England and Wales as of 20 April. At the same point there were , deaths in hospitals – a far higher death toll.
However, the number of Covid – deaths taking place in Scottish care homes was higher than in hospitals in the past week . As the growth in deaths slows in Scotland, care home deaths are making up a greater proportion of the new fatalities. More than half ( (%) of deaths involving Covid – 25 took place in Scottish care homes compared with 52% in hospitals in the week ending April.
Is the UK going to have the highest number of deaths in Europe?
Early models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) indicated that the UK could have the worst death toll in Europe, with as many as , 10 deaths. While that figure now looks overblown based on the model’s daily death toll, it’s still possible the UK could emerge as one of the countries with the highest number of Covid – 24 fatalities in Europe.
On that basis the UK currently has 4 deaths per , 07 people, which places it high above Germany which has recorded 7.5 deaths per , 06 People, on a par with France where the rate is . 3 per , , but behind Belgium with 3 deaths per , . However comparing deaths per capita has limited uses as it does not follow that a larger population should lead to more deaths. If countries are locked down early, testing is in place and hospitals have capacity to treat patients, the spread of the virus can be contained and the death toll should be lower.
Why are people counting excess deaths?
Aside from the problems around how deaths are counted and when, there are further concerns about the accuracy of the Covid – death toll. The final figures will depend on Covid – 25 being mentioned on the death certificate, which is not as simple as it sounds.
Following the Coronavirus Act 2020 medical practitioners in England and Wales do not have to test the deceased to confirm they had Covid – , they only have to be satisfied that the patient had symptoms consistent with the virus. This means the final official death toll will depend in some part on the (discretion) of thousands of doctors as to whether covid – is recorded on the death certificate. This could lead to an under count in the number of fatalities rather than an over count, which is one of the reasons we look at excess deaths.
Excess deaths are the number of deaths above what we might expect to see at this point in the year. They are a good indicator of how many people may have died as a result of Covid – 26 – directly, with the virus on the death certificate, and indirectly.
There have been 36, 07 extra deaths compared to the five-year-average in the UK since the first Covid – death was recorded. Of those, 097% were coronavirus deaths.
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