LONDON – The British government ordered an urgent review Friday into how daily coronavirus death figures in England are calculated amid claims the current method overestimates the tally.
The review was prompted by concerns raised over why England is still recording way more deaths than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Researchers looked at whether differing methods may account for the discrepancy.
On some days recently, England has seen more than 100 daily virus-related deaths as opposed to none in the other parts of the U.K. As a whole, the U.K. has recorded a coronavirus death toll of 45,119, the third-highest in the world behind the United States and Brazil.
Yoon Loke and Carl Heneghan, professors at the University of East Anglia and the University of Oxford, respectively, said in a blog that the methodology used by Public Health England has led to a “statistical flaw” that ends up with England recording disproportionately higher deaths.
“A patient who has tested positive, but successfully treated and discharged from hospital, will still be counted as a COVID death even if they had a heart attack or were run over by a bus three months later,” they said.
”By this PHE definition, no one with COVID in England is allowed to ever recover from their illness."
They recommended time limits on when people are deemed to be COVID-free. Scotland and Northern Ireland use a 28-day cut-off, for example.
Susan Hopkins, PHE’s incident director, said there is no agreed method of how to count virus-related deaths around the world, and the methodology used in England ensures that the data is “as complete as possible.”
She noted the evidence of long-term health problems for those who have contracted the virus but with the knowledge growing, "now is the right time to review how deaths are calculated.”
Though questions have been raised over the virus death tally in England, there is no impact on the level of excess deaths that the U.K. during the pandemic over the past few months. Official figures show that the U.K. as a whole has recorded more than 65,000 more deaths than the five-year average over the period of the pandemic.
Excess deaths have been declining over the past few weeks, along with the decline in the daily coronavirus death toll. Excess deaths are widely considered to be the best gauge of the virus’ impact as they provide a clear guide over historical periods and include all-cause mortality.