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A review of how Covid-19 deaths are calculated in England has reduced the UK death toll by more than 5,000.
Public Health England (PHE) had been recording coronavirus deaths where a positive test had occurred at any point, meaning a patient could never be classed as having recovered.
The government will now move to publishing deaths as related to Covid-19 only when the loss of life was within 28 days of diagnosis.
Why was publication of the daily death figure paused?
Health secretary Matt Hancock ordered an urgent review into how PHE calculated Covid-19 death figures after researchers criticised “statistical flaws” in the way England’s deaths were reported.
Professors Yoon Loke and Carl Heneghan raised concerns that anyone who had ever tested positive for Covid-19 and then died was included in England’s death figures – even if they have died from something else.
They said that no patient was allowed to recover from the virus because “anyone who has tested Covid positive but subsequently died at a later date of any cause will be included” in the data.
Loke told HuffPost UK at the time: “The problem is that when we look at the hospitals’ data we see that actually fewer and fewer people are dying in hospital due to coronavirus, and yet several days a week we see in the press that hundreds of people are still reported as having died outside of hospital.
“A lot of members of the public are quite terrified by this and wondering: ‘Who are these people, and why are they dying?’
“When we looked at the data we realised that the NHS had actually been very successful and discharged about 80,000 patients back to their home but despite these patients having recovered PHE are still monitoring these people and if they die of an unrelated condition PHE will still put them in the daily figures.”
England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all report their deaths separately, but the three devolved nations avoided PHE’s situation by implementing a 28-day cut off.
Data from Public Health Wales, Health Protection Scotland and the Northern Ireland Public Health Agency has been included in the daily Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) total for the UK.
How are the deaths being calculated now?
From now on, authorities will include the number of deaths that have occurred within 28 days of a positive lab-confirmed Covid-19 test result each day.
DHSC says that the approach will be used in all four UK nations.
Does it mean that the UK has far fewer deaths Covid-19 deaths than we thought?
The DHSC figure is not the only measure we have to understand the enormous impact of Covid-19 on the number of deaths.
The Office of National Statistics counts “excess deaths” in England and Wales – that is, the number of people who have died this over and above the average for the last five years.
Its figures have been higher than the overall number of coronavirus deaths recorded by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), which incorporates the PHE statistics that we now know to be affected by this statistical anomaly. This suggests undercounting in other areas.
What are the updated figures?
It means that more than 5,300 deaths were counted as due to Covid-19 when it should not have been recorded as a factor.
As of August 12, the new working total for the UK is 41,329, down from 46,628, the figure published by PHE a day earlier. That is despite 77 more deaths – using the new methodology – recorded over the last 24 hours.
On Thursday, the government said 41,347 people had died in the UK within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, up by 18 from the day before.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.