UK coronavirus death toll: How are coronavirus deaths recorded in the UK?

The Government has come under fire recently after it was revealed the overall death toll which was being presented did not reflect deaths that took place in care homes. Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock said the Government’s new plan was one of transparency towards the British public. It comes as the number of deaths reported in care homes grew to 3,096 since the pandemic first began.

Speaking from Downing Street, Mr Hancock said: “The proportion of coronavirus deaths in care homes is around a sixth of the total which is just below what we see in normal times.

“I want to make sure we bring as much transparency as possible to important information like this.

“From tomorrow, we’ll be publishing, not just the number of deaths in hospitals each day but the number of deaths in care homes and the community too.

“This is something that was not previously possible. Anyone who is working or living in a care home will be able to get access to a test whether they have symptoms or not.

“I am determined to do everything I can to protect the most vulnerable.”


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How are coronavirus deaths recorded in the UK?

The death toll in the UK is recorded in two ways, one way comes from the Department of Health and Social Care, which is published at 2pm every day.

This data comes from NHS England, Public Health Wales, Health Protection Scotland and Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland), and is the most reliable for giving daily reporting for an immediate understanding of the state of the pandemic.

The other source is the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which are released every Tuesday at 9.30am and reflect the week which ended 11 days before the date of publication.

For example, the data for the week ending April 20 would be released on May 1.


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The ONS writes: “The daily data provide a vital early indication of COVID-19 deaths that occur in hospitals after a positive test.

“The weekly death figures will include all deaths where the registration mentions COVID-198, including those occurring outside of hospitals (for example, in care homes).

“Weekly figures by registration date roughly follow the daily figures, with a short time lag.

“This reflects the time between a death taking place and being officially registered. The figures on COVID-19 deaths are derived from deaths registered in the stated week.

“They are therefore higher than the NHS daily publications. The ONS has also counted all deaths where COVID-19 was mentioned by the certifying doctor as “deaths involving COVID-19.”

The ONS data not only includes deaths in hospitals but also in care homes and deaths which occur within the community as a result of COVID-19.

The ONS writes: “Our usual weekly publication of the provisional number of deaths registered in England and Wales includes separate counts of deaths involving coronavirus.

“We have included in the count every death registered in the relevant week for which COVID-19 was mentioned on the dearth certificate (whether as the underlying cause of death or not).

“For example, there were 108 death registrations involving COVID-19 up until March 20 2020 – 5 in week ending March 13 and 103 in week ending March 20.

“But it takes at least five days for most dearths to be certified by a doctor, registered and the data processed, so our figures are always slightly out of date.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme, University of Cambridge statistician Professor David Spiegelhalter said: “I think we can be very confident that our deaths in English hospitals peaked around April 8 – we had about 850 deaths and now they are down to around 400 deaths a day occurring in English hospitals – a steady but slow decline.

“However, we’ve now just got new data that the Care Quality Commission have been reporting on notifications from care homes about deaths from COVID-19.

“They receive those really quite up to date, only a couple days’ delay, but that goes right up until April 24 – just a few days ago – when they were getting 400 notifications a day of deaths in care homes from coronavirus.

“When we add on deaths at home from COVID-19, it makes me – slightly sticking my neck out – believing that recently more deaths occurring from coronavirus out of hospital than in hospital.”

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