Thousands of coronavirus deaths 'will be wiped off the government's official toll' after urgent review into counting fiasco

chart: dailymail


Thousands of coronavirus deaths 'will be wiped off the government's official toll' after urgent review into counting fiasco that included people who had recovered and died of other causes in the toll




Thousands of coronavirus deaths are set to be wiped from the government's official count, it was claimed today.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock last month ordered an urgent review into how daily death counts are calculated in England because of a 'statistical flaw'.

Academics found Public Health England's methods meant ministers count victims as anyone who died after ever testing positive for Covid-19 — even if they were hit by a bus after beating the disease months later.

It would've meant that, technically, no-one could ever recover from the virus and all 265,000 of England's confirmed patients would eventually have had their deaths attributed to the disease.

The blunder could see up to 4,000 deaths removed from England's official toll of 41,749, according to reports. One of the leading experts who uncovered the flaw told MailOnline his 'best guess' was that more than 1,000 people have had their deaths wrongly recorded as caused by Covid-19.

Mr Hancock is set to bring the figures in line with Scotland and Northern Ireland, which only attribute deaths to Covid-19 if it occurs within a month of their diagnosis.

The Health Secretary is expected to announce the new measurement by the end of the week following the two-week review into the counting fiasco.

The statistical flaw was uncovered by Oxford University's Professor Carl Heneghan and Dr Yoon Loke, from the University of East Anglia.

Professor Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the prestigious university, told the Sun: 'It is a sensible decision. There is no point attributing deaths to Covid 28 days after infection.

'All it does is muddy the water. While deaths are falling in Scotland, PHE data suggests matters are worse in England.

'But if it's someone who picked up the virus in a care home in March and recovered, and last week died of a heart attack, what does that actually tell us?'

Professor Heneghan said the 28 day measure employed by the rest of the UK allowed experts to compare the outbreak on previous months with more precision, which helps inform policymakers about what steps need to be taken.

He added: 'If deaths are going down, great. And if they are up, then we need to act. But at the moment, the figures are just confusing.'

The Office for National Statistics, another Government agency, also records Covid-19 deaths, and is considered the most reliable source.

The ONS — which is not affected by the counting method — has confirmed at least 51,596 people have died in England and Wales up to July 24.

Its calculations are based on death certificates with Covid-19 as a suspected contributor.

Public Health England told MailOnline last month that the World Health Organization has not defined a time limit for counting a death as caused by Covid-19, and said it 'continues to keep this under review'.

It admitted that a coronavirus death is one that happens to anyone who has previously tested positive, regardless of how long ago the test happened. It said the 'vast majority' of Covid-19 deaths were correctly identified.

Dr Loke added at the time: 'This statistical flaw arose because PHE chose a quick and easy technique.

'Their statistical method is reasonably accurate at the beginning of the pandemic, when there were not yet many people in the community who had survived Covid.

'However, PHE did not — and have not yet — realised that glaring inaccuracies arise when tens of thousands of frail older people are discharged from hospital, and these Covid survivors unfortunately die from other, non-Covid related causes.'

Ministers are thought to be planning a huge reform of PHE following a series of failings by the beleaguered agency during the crisis.

PHE was blamed for the initially chaotic coronavirus testing regime as well as the decision made early in the epidemic to abandon widespread tracking of the virus.

The move was seen by many scientists as one of the central mistakes in Britain's handling of the pandemic. The UK has the highest number of coronavirus deaths in Europe.

PHE – an executive agency of the Department of Health – was also criticised for refusing the offer of help from universities and private labs to carry out tests.

The Prime Minister has not named PHE specifically, but he told the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs in May that he was planning a review of 'a number of institutions' after the pandemic is over.

The health secretary last month admitted that he didn't realise what the agency's limits were until the crisis exposed them.

Speaking to a committee of MPs, Mr Hancock was pressed on whether he was reforming PHE.

He said: 'There will be a time for that. My priority now is on controlling the virus and preparing for winter... we need a public health agency that isn't only brilliant at science but also able to go to scale quickly.'

Meanwhile, the UK recorded another 65 coronavirus deaths yesterday — taking the official number of victims in Britain to 46,364.

Around 58 Brits are now succumbing to the life-threatening infection each day, on average.

The deaths 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.

And the figure does not always match updates provided by the home nations. Department of Health officials work off a different time cut-off, meaning daily updates from Scotland and Northern Ireland are out of sync.

The count announced by NHS England every afternoon, which only takes into account deaths in hospitals, does not match up with the DH figures because they work off a different recording system.

For instance, some deaths announced by NHS England bosses will have already been counted by the Department of Health, which records fatalities 'as soon as they are available'.

But the fatality curve is no longer flattening as quickly as it was, with the rolling seven-day average number of daily deaths having been in the sixties since July 18.

It can take infected patients several weeks to die, meaning any spike in deaths won't be immediately apparent in government figures.

It is currently impossible to know how many of the deaths announced by the Department of Health were not actually caused directly by Covid-19.

Separate figures — released on Tuesday — revealed overall deaths in England and Wales are still below the number usually expected at this time of year, based on an average from the previous five years.

Department of Health bosses say 820 Britons are now being struck down with the life-threatening virus every day, on average. The rate has been rising since dropping to a four-month low of 546 on July 8.

The figures add to mounting fears of a second wave in Britain, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson understood to be 'extremely concerned' about cases bubbling up in the UK and in other European nations that have relaxed tough lockdown measures. France today warned it could lose control of Covid-19 'at any moment'.

But the number of patients being admitted to hospital has yet to spike, bolstering claims from top scientists that the outbreak is not getting worse and cases are only rising because more patients are being tested.

Just 109 coronavirus patients were admitted for NHS care across the UK on August 2 — a figure which has barely changed throughout July. During the darkest days of Britain's crisis in April, around 3,500 patients were needing hospital treatment every day.
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