UK coronavirus deaths may have reached 41,000, study finds

Nightingale Hospital, Coronavirus; more beds needed for capacity
Workers outside entrance of the ExCel centre in London which is being made into a temporary hospital – the NHS Nightingale hospital, comprising of two wards, each of 2,000 people, to help tackle coronavirus Credit: PA

Deaths linked to coronavirus in the UK may have already reached 41,000, according to new analysis.

The Financial Times estimate is more than double the latest total announced by the British Department of Health, which stood at 17,337 at 5pm on April 20.

The Government’s figure is based almost entirely on the deaths of hospital patients who tested positive for Covid-19.

Differences in reporting mean this total can include a small number of deaths outside hospital that occurred in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Financial Times has used separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and other sources to extrapolate the number of deaths beyond the Government total, to better reflect what is happening in the wider community.

It describes the figure of 41,102 deaths by April 21 as a “conservative estimate”.

The ONS publishes figures on the number of coronavirus-related deaths in England and Wales occurring outside hospitals – in locations such as care homes – but they only come out once a week and there is a lag in compiling the data.

Its latest figures, published on Tuesday, were for deaths in the period up to April 10.

The Financial Times used the ONS data, together with equivalent figures published by National Records of Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, to come up with a model that removes the delay in producing up-to-date figures.

Key to its calculations are the number of “excess deaths” reported by these sources – in other words, the number of death registrations compared with the average for the previous five years.

There have been around 17,000 excess deaths across the UK since mid-March, but this number is over two weeks out of date due to the lag in reporting.

The FT extrapolated this number by drawing on daily reports published by NHS England of hospital deaths of patients who tested positive for Covid-19, and scaling them up to reflect the wider community, based on the proportion of people who typically die in hospital.

The estimate of 41,102 deaths by April 21 includes more than 10,000 in care homes.

The analysis assumes the figures for excess deaths are a good measure of deaths directly or indirectly linked to coronavirus, and also that there is a stable pattern between hospital Covid-19 deaths and all deaths.

But the figures – which the FT said it will update daily – are another reminder of how the number of deaths announced by the Government is only a partial picture of the scale of the pandemic.

For example, ONS figures published on Tuesday showed that by April 10, there had been 12,516 deaths involving Covid-19 in England – which were registered up to April 18. The figure was 22% higher than the 10,260 deaths in hospitals in England for the same period, published by NHS England.

The ONS has said that from next week it will publish additional figures showing deaths involving Covid-19 in care homes, based on reporting from operators to the Care Quality Commission.

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