MPs demand answers on presentation of coronavirus mortality stats

PACAC chair asks national statistician which dataset the nation should use after concerns about hospital-only figures


By Jim Dunton

15 Apr 2020

Pic: PACAC chair William Wragg Credit: PA

MPs have called on national statistician Prof Sir Ian Diamond to advise on which dataset the country should use to reflect its exposure to the pandemic after concern that the Department for Health and Social Care’s hospital deaths figures only offer a partial view.

The request came from new Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee chair William Wragg on the day that Office for National Statistics exposed a significantly higher level of deaths than the hospital-only numbers released at the government’s daily press briefings.

Yesterday’s ONS figures suggested said there had been 6,235 deaths involving Covid-19 in England and Wales up to 3 April – a figure that is 15% higher than the NHS numbers for the same period because the total includes all mentions of the virus on death certificates, suspected cases and deaths in the community. 


In an e-mail to the national statistician, Wragg asked for Diamond’s views on how Covid-19 mortality statistics should be presented following concerns that the government’s current approach underplayed the “true scale” of the virus’ impact.

The MP said the figures given out at the daily briefings were clearly different to those produced by the ONS, which he noted had been produced for a long time and now specifically identified deaths related to Covid-19.

“At this time, many international comparisons are being made when considering the spread of and response to the pandemic in the UK,” Wragg said. 

“As the principal advisor to the government on statistics, do you believe these comparisons should be made based on the DHSC statistics or the ONS statistics? And when the government is making policy decisions, such as whether to extend the lockdown or whether schools can reopen, do you believe the underlying modelling should be using the DHSC figures or the ONS figures?”

Wragg said the Code of Practice for Statistics has three pillars – “trustworthiness”, “quality” and “value” – against which datasets should be measured.

“I would be grateful for your assessment of the statistics that the government quotes each day against these pillars, given that this is the headline given to the public each day and it does not include some of the oldest and most vulnerable in society because, for example, it does not report on care homes,” Wragg said.

“With directors of charities suggesting that the government is ‘airbrushing older people out’ of the Covid-19 figures, your view would be helpful for the committee to put questions to the government about how it is reporting.”

The government’s day-on-day Coronavirus figures yesterday said 778 additional fatalities had been reported at hospitals in England and Wales on Monday, taking the hospital death toll to 12,107.

Yesterday’s ONS figures trail the DHSC updates, but noted that the 16,387 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week to 3 April was the highest number of any week since collection of the weekly dataset began in 2005.

It said nearly half (46.6%) of all deaths registered in London during the week involved Covid-19; while the West Midlands also had a high proportion of Covid-19 deaths, accounting for 22.1% of deaths registered in this region.

The weekly total of deaths registered was said to be 5,246 more than the previous week and 6,082 more than the five-year average.

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