It's not true that data on causes of death isn't published
12th Oct 2020
We do not know where Covid-19 places among causes of death because the data is not published.
Incorrect. The data is published monthly by the Office for National Statistics.
“We know that every single death has to be recorded and logged. So what, apart from simple old age (the vast majority and undisputed) are the principal death causes in our society?
“Well, there are 20 to 40 diseases and illnesses that have been with us for generations and still are […] So where in this one-to-50 list of death causes does COVID fit?
“No one knows save the ONS yet I would take a fat wager that it is way down the list.”
Frederick Forsyth, 9 October 2020
Last week, author and political commentator Frederick Forsyth claimed in the Daily Express that data on causes of death is not published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
He claimed this means we cannot say where Covid-19 is ranked in the list of most common causes of death.
However, this is incorrect. The data is published monthly by the ONS, and easily accessible to the public.
While the release does not list the number of deaths from every possible disease, it does list the top ten causes of death in England and Wales, and where Covid-19 places among a list of all causes.
For example, the most recent ONS data shows that, for deaths registered in August 2020, Covid-19 was the 24th most common cause of death in England, and in Wales it was the 19th most common cause of death.
The ONS also says: “The leading cause of death in August 2020 was dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in England (accounting for 10.9% of all deaths) and ischaemic heart disease in Wales (11.0% of all deaths); both leading causes of death were the same in July 2020.”
Deaths may be registered some time after they happened, so not all these deaths will have happened in August. This delay is not uniform. For example, deaths by suicide always require an inquest and so can take months longer to register than deaths from other causes.
When completing a death certificate, the responsible medical professional is asked to determine which conditions may have contributed to death. They are also asked to determine “the disease or injury that initiated the train of events directly leading to death” and this is called the “underlying cause”.
The data published by the ONS in its monthly mortality analysis focuses on this underlying cause of death.
Update 13 October 2020
After we published this piece, the Express deleted Mr Forsyth's article from its website.