Britain’s non-coronavirus death rate has spiked: What’s going on?

Britain’s non-coronavirus death rate has spiked: What's going on?

UK coronavirus deaths are rising, but non-coronavirus fatalities are also the highest on record, leaving UK experts baffled.

In the week ending April 3, COVID-19 was cited on 3,475 death certificates, said the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It pushed the total number of deaths that week to over 16,000 – a record high and 6,000 more deaths than are typically reported during this time of year when deaths tend to fall.

Office for National Statistics (ONS)


Our data shows that of all deaths in England and Wales that occurred up to 3 April (registered up to 11 April), 6,235 involved COVID-19 compared with the 4,093 deaths reported on 4 April 2020 by @DHSCgovuk 

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ONS official Nick Stripe said the rising number of overall deaths, around 2,500 above average when factoring out coronavirus deaths, was “hugely significant.”

“This is not normal,” he added.

The ONS data lags behind the daily death figures reported by the government. This is because it relies on death certificates that are often registered some days after the death, whereas government figures are compiled from confirmed cases of patient deaths who have tested positive for coronavirus, which can be gathered more quickly.

It is not clear what else is contributing to the spike in deaths.

Remaining fatalities could be due to unrecorded coronavirus cases, such as deaths in care homes, where many residents die before a doctor can examine them.

Other lockdown related factors could also have an impact, such as people failing to seek treatment for other conditions. It is also possible there has been an uptick in mental health related deaths.

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, an expert in risk at the University of Cambridge, said the figures were “extraordinary,” “shocking,” and need investigating.

“Why the massive rise in non-COVID deaths? How much is judgment of registering doctor? How much is collateral damage of lockdown,” Spiegelhalter said in a tweet.

David Spiegelhalter@d_spiegel

Latest data from ONS 30 mins ago  Just drawn this extraordinary, and shocking, graph. Why the massive rise in non-covid deaths? How much is judgement of registering doctor? How much is collateral damage of lockdown???

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Dr. Robert Coull, a Scottish National Health Service general practitioner at Strachur Medical Practice and former hospital doctor, said he thinks all the extra deaths are almost all due to COVID-19.

The doctor said in a tweet it’s “too soon” for deaths from delayed cancer treatment to appear in the statistics.

There are really only two possible causes for the deaths cited as non-COVID-19, according to Coull. Either they are actually coronavirus deaths, or they reflect an increase in non-coronavirus deaths spurred by lockdown. The latter scenario is unlikely given what is known about limited testing and reduced access to autopsies that mean COVID-19 deaths will be misclassified.

“We know that COVID-19 causes a lot of deaths in older people, and we know from data from other EU countries that we expect to see almost as many deaths in the community as we do in hospitals. This would fit with all the excess deaths being COVID-19,” Coull told Al Arabiya English.

He said there has been concern in the medical community that those with serious conditions may avoid going to the hospital.

Coull added that it is unclear exactly how lockdown could cause a large increase in non-coronavirus deaths.

“The only two conditions that would result in deaths going up immediately are really strokes and heart attacks,” he said. “Stroke deaths are not really affected by emergency care. So that just leaves heart attacks.”

Chronic disease management has been halted due to coronavirus, which could have impacts over a 10-year period, but is unlikely to cause immediate.

“This can easily by stopped for a few months without much impact,” he said. “So, if you take all of that … it seems reasonable to say that all of the excess deaths are from COVID. This is what we would do with, say, influenza.”

Dying at home

The coronavirus crisis has also led to a sharp rise in the number of ill people dying at home because they are reluctant to call for an ambulance, paramedics have said.

Dozens more than usual have died at home due to cardiac arrest each day – potentially related to coronavirus – as ambulance crews have been unable to reach them, according to minutes of a meeting held by London accident and emergency chiefs last week that were obtained by the Guardian.

The number of emergency cardiac arrest calls rose from 55 per day to 140.

The minutes also reveal acute concern among senior medics that seriously ill patients are not going to the hospital or calling emergency services because they are afraid or do not wish to be a burden.

“People don’t want to go near hospital,” the document said. “As a result, salvageable conditions are not being treated.”

The latest ONS figures also suggest there were more than 1,600 coronavirus-linked deaths outside of hospitals in March.
Dementia and Alezheimer’s disease (6,401 deaths), and coronary heart disease (4,042 deaths) were the two biggest killers in March.

Coronavirus was the third most frequent underlying cause of death in March, with 3,912 reported cases.

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