Monday, 28 Sep 2020

Coronavirus: UK death toll falls by 5,377 as government changes way fatalities are counted in England

The way the government counts how many people in England have died from COVID-19 will change amid concerns that the previous system is “misleading”.

England will now come into line with the rest of the UK and impose a 28-day cut off period for counting COVID-19 related deaths.

As of today, the number of all deaths in patients testing positive for COVID-19 in the UK is now 41,329. That figure has been revised down from 46,706.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock ordered an investigation into the methodology used by Public Health England (PHE) to collect and present the daily death statistics.

Previously anyone who has ever tested positive for the virus in England was automatically counted as a coronavirus death when they died, even if their death was likely to be caused by something else.

Scotland and Wales impose a cut-off of 28 days after a positive test, so any death after this period is not assumed to be virus-related.

Professor Carl Heneghan, director at Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, wants to see a cut-off period in England of 21 days.

“The real job is to make precise, accurate data and put that out there. Now, if you’re doing that and it’s misleading, as the government has recognised with the Public Health England data, it’s right for them to say we now understand this data is inaccurate and it’s misleading the public.

“We’re going to put a pause on that. It’s important when they do that, we don’t admonish them.”

He added: “We say it was wrong, but it’s more important we fix it. We get a more appropriate measure. So, for instance, in Scotland, they are only counting the deaths that occurred within 28 days of the test.

“Now, that’s what we do normally. If you have an operation, you say the death was related to this operation if it occurred within 30 days.

“If you had another respiratory infection like influenza, we count it within 28 days. It is meaningless to provide data to say you had a test six months ago and today you walked in front of a bus and you died from that.”

The PHE figures were the ones reported at the daily government press briefings. They were paused in July and a review was undertaken.

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