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expert reaction to latest ONS stats on deaths in England and Wales up to week ending 3 July 2020

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have released the latest figures for deaths in England and Wales, including deaths from COVID-19 in all settings.

 

Prof Carl Heneghan and Dr Jason Oke, Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine and Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, said:

“The Office for National Statistics (ONS) today published deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 3rd July, 2020 (Week 27).  Of 9,140 deaths registered in this week, 532 (6%) mentioned “novel coronavirus (COVID-19)”, on the death certificate, the lowest number of fatalities involving COVID-19 in the last 15 weeks.

“The ONS also release deaths by date of occurrence, which allows us to calculate the change in the number of deaths occurring and chart the trend over time.

“The figure below (and attached) shows that from a peak of 1,272 deaths on the 8th April the daily number of deaths has fallen considerably, with 64 occurring on the 30th June and 37 on the 1st July. Although these latter counts could be added to in the next week, the trend is still for fewer deaths albeit at a slower rate than seen in April and May.

“What has become apparent in recent weeks is the growing disparity between the numbers released by ONS and those reported by Public Health England which are widely disseminated in the media.

“The total number of COVID-19 deaths in England according to ONS for 3rd July is 48,154 whereas the equivalent total announced on the 4th by PHE was 39,626.

“The PHE figures also vary substantially from day to day. For example, 16 new deaths were announced on 6th July, but the following day, 152 were reported.

“This variation is most likely due to the appearance of ‘historic’ deaths that have occurred weeks before, but for some reason unknown to us, get reported in batches on particular days.  To counter this variation, a moving average smooths the trend, but even this is at odds with the ONS data.

“The PHE moving average for 30th June is 103, which is more than the ONS numbers for 30th June and 1st July combined.

“The moving average is overlaid on to the ONS figures to show the PHE figures average has been consistently higher than ONS for some time.

“A similar analysis of the English hospital data by date of occurrence shows 25 deaths for 30th June. As this is 60% of COVID deaths in hospitals, we can surmise that the total number of deaths in all settings is approximately  40 per day, much closer to the ONS numbers. (see: https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/covid-19-death-data-in-england-daily-update/)

“Because of the inaccuracies in PHE data we recommend using ONS data and the NHS England data to understand the trends in deaths over time. To reduce confusion we require all deaths reported by PHE to include when they occurred as opposed to the day of reporting.”

 

 

 

Prof Sheila Bird, Formerly Programme Leader, MRC Biostatistics Unit, University of Cambridge, said:

The rate of decline of COVID-mention deaths [week ended 20 May to most the recently-ONS-reported week ended 3 July] is more gradual for England [2 455 to 497] and Wales [134 to 35] than in Scotland [230 to 17]. However, later registration of deaths is permitted in England & Wales than in Scotland. Late registration leads to under-estimation of the rate of decline in pandemic fatalities. Hence, it will remain unclear until a couple of weeks hence, when reliable counts are available of  the occurrence of COVID-mention deaths in E&W for the week ended 3 July 2020, whether under-estimation is the explanation or an increase in SARS-CoV-2 transmission rates in June that was not mirrored in Scotland.

“Rather than having to wait, nowcasting of ONS-registered COVID-mention deaths is the alternative solution.”

 

 

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/deathsregisteredweeklyinenglandandwalesprovisional/latest

 

All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:

www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/covid-19

 

Declared interests

Prof Sheila Bird:  SMB leads for the Royal Statistical Society on the need for legislation to end the late registration of deaths in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

None others received.

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