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Covid-19 deaths in the UK may have reached 41,000, more than double the reported number

Over 17,000 people have died, according to the government’s figure.

File photo of a healthcare worker in the UK.
File photo of a healthcare worker in the UK.
Image: PA Images

DEATHS LINKED TO Covid-19 in the UK may have already reached 41,000, according to new analysis.

The Financial Times’ estimate is more than double the latest total announced by the Department of Health, which stood at 17,337 at 5pm on 20 April.

The UK government’s figure is based almost entirely on the deaths of hospital patients who tested positive for Covid-19.

Differences in reporting mean this total can include a small number of deaths outside hospital that occurred in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Financial Times has used separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and other sources to extrapolate the number of deaths beyond the government total, to better reflect what is happening in the wider community.

It describes the figure of 41,102 deaths by 21 April (yesterday) as a “conservative estimate”.

Lag in compiling data 

The ONS publishes figures on the number of coronavirus-related deaths in England and Wales occurring outside hospitals – in locations such as care homes – but they only come out once a week and there is a lag in compiling the data.

Its latest figures, published yesterday, were for deaths in the period up to 10 April.

The Financial Times used the ONS data, together with equivalent figures published by National Records of Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, to come up with a model that removes the delay in producing up-to-date figures.

Key to its calculations are the number of “excess deaths” reported by these sources – in other words, the number of death registrations compared with the average for the previous five years.

There have been around 17,000 excess deaths across the UK since mid-March, but this number is over two weeks out of date due to the lag in reporting.

The FT extrapolated this number by drawing on daily reports published by NHS England of hospital deaths of patients who tested positive for Covid-19, and scaling them up to reflect the wider community, based on the proportion of people who typically die in hospital.

The estimate of 41,102 deaths by 21 April includes more than 10,000 in care homes.

The analysis assumes the figures for excess deaths are a good measure of deaths directly or indirectly linked to coronavirus, and also that there is a stable pattern between hospital Covid-19 deaths and all deaths.

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But the figures – which the FT said it will update daily – are another reminder of how the number of deaths announced by the UK government is only a partial picture of the scale of the pandemic.

For example, ONS figures published yesterday showed that by 10 April, there had been 12,516 deaths involving Covid-19 in England – which were registered up to 18 April. The figure was 22% higher than the 10,260 deaths in hospitals in England for the same period, published by NHS England.

The ONS has said that from next week it will publish additional figures showing deaths involving Covid-19 in care homes, based on reporting from operators to the Care Quality Commission.

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