The Government’s official count of coronavirus deaths is too high and fewer than 40 people are actually dying per day now, two top statisticians have claimed.
Department of Health officials yesterday 85 more Britons had died, along with 138 on Tuesday, and its daily average for the past week has been 75.
But Oxford University experts say these numbers are too high and give a confusing picture about the true state of the UK’s Covid-19 outbreak.
The way officials lump historical deaths onto random days — and include fatalities that happened weeks or even months ago — give a misleading picture.
Dr Jason Oke and Professor Carl Heneghan said figures from Public Health England — which are published each day by the Department of Health — contained ‘inaccuracies’ and could cause confusion.
Deaths are still falling, the professors said, even if at a slower rate than they were earlier in the crisis.
The Government has pointed out in the past that it counts deaths on the date that the paperwork is completed, not when the person actually died, which can make day-by-day figures inaccurate. Numbers are particularly low at the weekends and on bank holidays.
Dr Oke and Professor Heneghan said the Government should make it clearer when people actually died so that when there are one-day spikes — the 138 deaths announced on Tuesday, for example — it doesn’t look like the outbreak is getting worse.
Data shows that the trend of deaths charted by when they actually happened (dotted blue line), not when the paperwork was finished, is significantly lower than the number of deaths being announced by the Department of Health (red line)
Dr Jason Oke and Professor Carl Heneghan, from the University of Oxford, said death figures published by Public Health England contained ‘inaccuracies’ and could cause confusion.
Writing in a blog Dr Oke and Professor Heneghan said: ‘What has become apparent in recent weeks is the growing disparity between the numbers released by ONS [Office for National Statistics] and those reported by Public Health England which are widely disseminated in the media.’
They said PHE’s figures ‘vary substantially from day to day’ and explained: ‘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…
‘We can surmise that the total number of deaths in all settings is approximately 40 per day, much closer to the ONS numbers.’
To explain their calculations Dr Oke and Professor Heneghan, from the university’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, compared death tolls recorded by Public Health England (PHE) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
PHE counts only deaths in people who tested positive for Covid-19, which means it is thought to have missed out thousands of people at the start of the epidemic.
The ONS, meanwhile, counts anyone who has the disease mentioned on their death certificate, whether they were tested or not.
Dr Oke and Professor Heneghan said even PHE’s moving average, which is intended to smooth out dips and spikes around the weekends, is too high.
It was 103 for June 30, they pointed out, but the ONS counted 101 deaths (by actual date of death) on June 30 and July 1 combined — making the two-day average 51.
They said: ‘The PHE figures average has been consistently higher than ONS for some time.’
The official daily death counts announced to the public have ‘inaccuracies’ and don’t actually reflect the present day, statisticians say
ONS data shows that significantly more people have died than the Department of Health has counted. This is thought to be largely because it only counted people who tested positive but wouldn’t let care home residents have tests during the peak of the outbreak
The pair also pointed out the death counts from NHS England, which are accurate around three days after the date in question, are too low to match PHE.
According to the ONS, hospital fatalities now make up around 60 per cent of all deaths that happen on any given day.
On June 30, NHS England recorded 27 fatalities. If this was 60 per cent of all deaths that happened on that day the total number would be 45.
But the Department of Health, using PHE’s data, announced 115 more deaths on that day.
Professor Heneghan and Dr Oke acknowledged that the official death counts are constantly backdating deaths so do not reflect the day they’re announced, but suggest that historic fatalities are being spread out.
‘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,’ they wrote.
‘To reduce confusion we require all deaths reported by PHE to include when they occurred as opposed to the day of reporting.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We have been completely up front about how this information is being presented, and it is misleading to suggest that there are discrepancies or inaccuracies in the data.
‘These data sources are all subject to time lags in reporting, and DHSC and PHE have been clear that figures reported at weekends are sometimes lower for that reason.’
HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE REALLY DIED OF THE CORONAVIRUS IN THE UK?
Department of Health: 45,053
Department of Health’s latest death count for all settings (as of 9am, July 15) stands at 45,053.
The daily data does not represent how many Covid-19 patients died within the last 24 hours — it is only how many fatalities have been reported and registered with the authorities.
It also only takes into account patients who tested positive for the virus, as opposed to deaths suspected to be down to the coronavirus.
National statistical bodies: 55,216
Data compiled by the statistical bodies of each of the home nations show 55,216 people died of either confirmed or suspected Covid-19 across the UK by the end of May.
The Office for National Statistics yesterday confirmed that 50,219 people in England and Wales died with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 by June 19.
The number of coronavirus deaths was 824 by the same day in Northern Ireland, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).
National Records Scotland — which collects statistics north of the border — said 4,173 people had died across the country by June 22.
Their tallies are always 10 days behind the Department of Health (DH) because they wait until as many fatalities as possible for each date have been counted, to avoid having to revise their statistics.
Excess deaths: 65,249
The total number of excess deaths has now passed 65,000.
Excess deaths are considered to be an accurate measure of the number of people killed by the pandemic because they include a broader spectrum of victims.
As well as including people who may have died with Covid-19 without ever being tested, the data also shows how many more people died because their medical treatment was postponed, for example, or who didn’t or couldn’t get to hospital when they were seriously ill.
Data from England and Wales shows there has been an extra 59,324 deaths between March 15 and June 12, as well as 4,924 in Scotland between March 10 and June 22 and 1,001 in Northern Ireland between March 28 and June 26.