Coronavirus: More than 5,000 people removed from UK death toll after government review

Official UK death toll cut from 46,706 to 41,329 after review launched amid concerns about flaw in counting data

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
@ShaunLintern
Wednesday 12 August 2020 19:40
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A new way to record the number of coronavirus deaths has been devised
A new way to record the number of coronavirus deaths has been devised

More than 5,000 people have been removed from the UK’s official coronavirus death toll after the government reviewed the way it records fatalities.

Ministers were forced to urgently review the methodology for reporting deaths in the UK after experts from the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine exposed a flaw in Public Health England’s work, which recorded any death in a person who had previously tested positive for the virus in the daily total, regardless of how long after the test they had died.

The four UK chief medical officers have now agreed to report the number of deaths which occur within 28 days of a positive lab test for the virus.

Data will also be published weekly for deaths which occur within 60 days of a positive test or in which Covid-19 is recorded on the death certificate.

The decision means that the official UK death toll from coronavirus has been revised down from 46,706 to 41,329 as of Wednesday.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the change would more accurately measure the immediate impact of the epidemic and had been peer-reviewed by experts to ensure it was the best measure and used consistently across the UK.

The UK Statistics Authority was also consulted on the development of the new measures.

In its review, Public Health England considered evidence of how likely it was that Covid-19 was a contributory factor in a death at different points in time after a positive test.

Analysis of data in England found 96 per cent of deaths occurred within 60 days or had Covid-19 on the death certificate. A total of 88 per cent of deaths occurred within 28 days.

Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at Public Health England, said: “The way we count deaths in people with Covid-19 in England was originally chosen to avoid underestimating deaths caused by the virus in the early stages of the pandemic.

“Our analysis of the long-term impact of the infection now allows us to move to new methods, which will give us crucial information about both recent trends and overall mortality burden due to Covid-19.”

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Weekly data showing deaths within 60 days will be published for England and will be used to monitor the impact of the virus over time.

Last month professors Yoon Loke, from the University of East Anglia, and Carl Heneghan, from the University of Oxford, criticised the existing method of reporting deaths, saying it created a false picture of the impact and should be scrapped.

They called for the introduction of a 21-day mortality measure.

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