Daily Express diabetes and coronavirus deaths headline is misleading

22nd May 2020


Diabetes is linked to a quarter of pandemic deaths in England according to NHS statistics.


About a quarter of Covid-19 patients who died in England hospital also had diabetes, but this does not mean that diabetes was definitely linked to all these deaths. This cannot be concluded from these NHS statistics.


More than a third of Covid-19 deaths had diabetes.


This is incorrect. NHS data shows that of Covid-19 patients who died in hospital in England just over a quarter had diabetes.

Claim 1 of 2

The print edition of the Daily Express has used a misleading headline to report NHS England statistics on deaths among people with Covid-19. 

“Diabetes linked to quarter of pandemic deaths in England”

Daily Express, 15 May 2020 

Around a quarter of patients who died in hospital in England having tested positive for Covid-19 in hospital had diabetes, but that doesn’t mean these deaths were all linked to diabetes. The headline of the online version of the article incorrectly states that “More than THIRD of COVID-19 hospital deaths had [diabetes]”.

Data published by NHS England on 14 May 2020 shows that, of the 22,332 people who died in a hospital in England between 31 March and 2 May 2020 having tested positive for Covid-19, 26% (5,873) had diabetes according to their patient record.

But this does not mean that a quarter of Covid-19 deaths were linked to (or caused by) diabetes

It’s true that diabetes is a reported risk factor for severe Covid-19 illness. It is thought that this is partly down to the fact that diabetes can compromise people’s immune response. 

However, there are other factors associated with both diabetes and death from Covid-19  that may also explain some of the noted association including demographic factors such as sex and ethnicity and other health problems such as obesity and hypertension

As the additional risk factors were not accounted for in the NHS England data, which simply presents descriptive information about the patients who died, it cannot be concluded that a quarter of Covid-19 deaths were linked to diabetes. 

The body of the Daily Express article begins with “MORE than a quarter of Covid-19 patients who have died in hospitals in England had diabetes, NHS data revealed”: a more accurate depiction of the NHS England statistics.

By way of comparison, about 7% of the general adult population in England are known to have diabetes.

Diabetes UK has said more research is needed to understand the interaction between diabetes and Covid-19.