A new government-approved methodology put in place following an urgent review of England’s COVID-19 death toll, recorded 41,329 deaths from the deadly coronavirus on Thursday, down 5,000 from the previous analysis.
The recalculation was prompted by concerns that the Public Health England (PHE) analysis of the number of COVID-19 fatalities could be over-exaggerated by recording each and every positive coronavirus test and failure to assess if the eventual cause of death was directly linked to the deadly virus.
The new system has now been agreed UK-wide by all four Chief Medical Officers for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
“The way we count deaths in people with COVID-19 in England was originally chosen to avoid underestimating deaths caused by the virus in the early stages of the pandemic”, said Professor John Newton, Director of Health Improvement at Public Health England.
“Our analysis of the long-term impact of the infection now allows us to move to new methods, which will give us crucial information about both recent trends and overall mortality burden due to COVID-19”, he said.
Under the new system, the UK government and the devolved administrations have agreed to publish the number of deaths that occurred within 28 days of a positive lab-confirmed Covid test result on a daily basis.
This will provide accurate data on the immediate impact of recent epidemic activity, PHE said.
The methodology has been peer reviewed by independent academics to ensure that the best possible indicators are used, and that the methods are applied consistently across the nations of the UK.
“PHE and the devolved administrations have worked closely with the UK Statistics Authority on these new measures and the new approach is in line with advice from the statistics regulator. In their review, Public Health England considered epidemiological evidence to see how likely it was that COVID-19 was a contributory factor to a death at different points in time after a positive test”, PHE said.
An analysis of the data in England found 96 per cent of deaths occurred within 60 days or had COVID-19 on the death certificate, while 88 per cent of deaths occurred within 28 days.
In England, a new weekly set of figures will also be published, showing the number of deaths that occur within 60 days of a positive test. Deaths that occur after 60 days will also be added to this figure if COVID-19 appears on the death certificate. This will provide an additional measure of the impact of the disease over time, PHE said.
The move is set to address concerns raised by academics from the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University about the original measure, which counted anyone who had ever tested positive as a COVID-associated death.
They called for the introduction of a standard measure in order to accurately assess the impact of the virus on mortality rates.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock had called for the review into the data collation last month following concerns over inflated death toll figures from the deadly virus.