The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have released their monthly mortality analysis for England and Wales covering September 2020.
Prof Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics, The Open University, said:
“Just looking at the latest full month, September 2020, the ONS statisticians report that the death rate is higher, in both England and Wales, than the average for the last five years. The lowest September figure this century was in 2018. The September death rates rose a little from then to September 2019, and then again this year, by roughly the same amount. I would be cautious not to over-interpret this increase, though. Death rates for single months do vary quite a lot from one year to the next. However, perhaps it’s worth noting that the rate for August 2020 was slightly lower than the rate for August 2019, and the same was true comparing the July rates for 2019 and 2020.
“This small increase is definitely not due to deaths directly caused by COVID-19. Taking England and Wales together, there were 42,437 deaths registered in September 2020, which is 2,703 deaths more than the average for the previous five years. But, that month, only 596 of those deaths were certified as having COVID-19 as their underlying cause, and another 129 deaths had a mention of COVID-19 on the certificate, but not as the underlying cause. Even taking all those COVID-related deaths out of the picture, September 2019 deaths would still be higher than the average level.
“Some further light is thrown by the data on causes of death for September. The new report gives death rates for the top 10 causes of death, in September, in England and Wales separately. In both countries, the most common cause of death is dementias and Alzheimer’s disease, which is typical for this time of year, and indeed this has been the leading cause of death over the whole year since 2015. In England, the death rates from most of the top 10 causes are actually lower than the 5-year average, though in most cases the difference is too small to conclude that things have really changed. The biggest difference is in deaths whose underlying cause was influenza and pneumonia (combined), where the death rate was 27.7% lower than the 5-year average. That’s a really big drop. The ONS statisticians suggest that this may have happened because deaths from influenza and pneumonia, that would have occurred throughout 2020, may have occurred earlier, in April or May, at the height of the pandemic. That’s certainly a possibility, but maybe it’s not the only one. Most deaths from influenza and pneumonia are in older people, who may be more likely to be careful with social distancing, mask wearing, and other measures intended to reduce the risk of COVID-19. The same measures are also likely to reduce the risk of influenza, and so may have contributed to the lower death rate from this cause. Overall for this month, the patterns of causes of death are broadly similar in Wales to in England, though there all the differences in Wales are smaller than the statistical margin of error, which is wider in Wales because the country has a lower population.
“This data release doesn’t add much to what has already been reported in more detail elsewhere* about the place of death. It does again emphasise that more deaths continue to occur at the home of the deceased person. That trend continues – currently deaths at home are running at about a third higher than the previous average level, and more detail on the specific causes of death at home are made clearer in the other reports I have mentioned.”
*For example, https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/articles/deathsinprivatehomesenglandandwalesprovisional/latest and https://fingertips.phe.org.uk/static-reports/mortality-surveillance/excess-mortality-in-england-latest.html#place-of-death
All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:
Prof Kevin McConway: “I am a Trustee of the SMC and a member of the Advisory Committee, but my quote above is in my capacity as a professional statistician.”None received.