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expert reaction to latest ONS stats on deaths in England and Wales

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have released the latest statistics for deaths in England and Wales up to 17th July 2020, including deaths from COVID-19 in all settings. 


Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, Chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, University of Cambridge, said:

“Today’s ONS data shows that for the week ending 17th July, there were 284 Covid deaths registered in England: inevitable registration delays mean that the actual number that occurred in that week was lower, at 184.  But the overall count of Covid deaths on the PHE dashboard increased by a remarkable 574 during this week, more than twice the number of registrations and three times the number of actual occurrences.

“This PHE count is fraught with difficulties, in particular that it apparently includes any of the 250,000+ people who have tested positive in England and then subsequently died of any cause, whether related to Covid or not.  Indeed this daily count has been officially suspended by the Department of Health and Social Care, and it is surprising to see it still being published by PHE and finding its way onto international comparison websites.

“Beneath the welcome news that deaths overall are less than the five-year average, the fact is that people are still staying away from hospitals and dying at home.  In England and Wales there were 766 excess deaths that occurred at home in the week ending 17th July, only 29 of which were with Covid, whereas 862 fewer deaths than normal occurred in hospitals. 

“So over 100 deaths a day are happening in people’s homes that would normally happen in hospital, although this is at least a reduction from the peak of the epidemic, when there were 2000 additional deaths a week occurring at home.  Presumably some of these deaths might have been delayed if they had gone to hospital.”


Prof Carl Heneghan, Director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, and Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine, University of Oxford, said:

“Today’s ONS data reports there were 8,823 deaths registered across all ages in England and Wales for week 29 (ending the 17th July). 

“This is 270 death fewer than the five-year average. Over the last five weeks, there have been 1,252 fewer deaths than expected (44,971 versus the five year average of 46,223 for these five weeks)

“Deaths, where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, have come down (since the peak in week 16 when 8,758 deaths were registered) to 295 in week 29.

“This translates into approximately five registered deaths with COVID on the death certificate per million population. (population of England and Wales estimate 59.44M).

“ONS DATA reports 284 deaths in England involving COVID-19 in all ages for week 29. GOV.UK ¥ in the same week reports there were 442 deaths  (56% more deaths).

“In Wales, ONS data reports 11 deaths involving COVID-19, for all ages in Wales while the GOV.UK site reports only 5 COVID deaths (45% fewer deaths). 

“The inaccuracies in these data sets are unacceptable. Some of the deaths in week 29 have occurred in individuals who may not have an active infection. It has been over ten days since the government said it was looking into the issue of reporting of deaths and we have not yet heard an answer. The reasons for this delay are not clear, but it should be straightforward to report the number of deaths of those who died with an active infection in the last 28 days.

“We should be focusing on the data that matters: admissions to hospital; critical care bed occupancy and the deaths from active infection to guide our current responses. Overall the numbers of registered deaths are highly reassuring and show that the current risks from COVID are very low.”

¥SOURCE: data


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