UK Health Secretary orders review of Covid death calculation in England

Public Health England has been reporting the highest figures of Covid-19 deaths in the UK.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has ordered a review into how Covid-19 deaths are being calculated by Public Health England (PHE).

Researchers have criticised “statistical flaws” in the way deaths from Covid-19 are being reported by PHE across England, claiming the method is causing figures to look far worse than any other part of the UK.

Professors Yoon Loke, from the University of East Anglia, and Carl Heneghan, from the University of Oxford, said more robust data is needed.

The two argue that PHE looks at whether a person has ever tested positive and whether they are still alive at a later date, therefore not taking into account that the patient may have died from another illness which may explain how PHE figures “vary substantially from day to day”.

“PHE does not appear to consider how long ago the Covid test result was, nor whether the person has been successfully treated in hospital and discharged to the community,” they said.

“Anyone who has tested Covid positive but subsequently died at a later date of any cause will be included on the PHE Covid death figures."

In Ireland, Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) believed that Covid deaths may have been over-reported in a similar way here when data showed excess deaths from March to June were "substantially" less than the officially reported Covid-19 figures.

By this PHE definition, no-one with Covid in England is allowed to ever recover from their illness.

“One reasonable approach would be to define community Covid-related deaths as those that occurred within 21 days of a Covid positive test result," said Mr Loke and Heneghan.

The pair said a reasonable approach would be to implement a 21-day cut-off following a positive Covid result, after which time a death would not be attributed to the virus. Such a system is already in use in Scotland and Northern Ireland where there is a 28-day limit.

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