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Need to focus on when deaths happened, not when reported

Updated: May 6, 2020

Over 3 weeks ago, NHS England started providing us with vital information on when deaths in NHS hospitals actually happened rather than when they were eventually reported. And yet, every evening the focus has been on the number of deaths reported. This conceals vital patterns and understates the tragic toll that has already happened. For example, yesterday 112 of the deaths reported had happened more than 2 weeks ago, whereas the previous day the number was only 25.

Simple actuarial chain ladder techniques indicate that over 1,650 deaths have taken place in NHS hospitals but not yet been reported. Bringing all this information together provides a much clearer and positive picture of the declining number of deaths since 8 April, the peak of this phase of the pandemic in the UK.

The data also highlights more clearly the regional differences with London showing the strongest improvement from their worst days in early April.

With a clearer focus on when deaths happened, then attention can shift to those deaths that have happened in nursing homes and at home where excess death reporting from the ONS provides early indications of the large number of deaths that as yet have not been reported, whether directly or indirectly as a result of this COVID-19 pandemic.

And please - no more news headlines that stress that the total number of COVID-19 deaths have increased yet again. The only way is sadly up. Such reporting does not help anyone to better understand what is unfolding around us.

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