Public trust and confidence in statistics is a fundamental part of the Code of Practice for Statistics. To ensure this, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) are taking steps to provide accurate information on those who, sadly, have died as a result of or diagnosed with COVID-19.

There are two main sources of COVID-19 deaths data:

  • the daily DHSC COVID-19 deaths data, which are published for the UK at 2pm every day; these data come from NHS England, Public Health Wales, Health Protection Scotland and Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland), and this is the most reliable for giving daily reporting for an immediate understanding of the pandemic

  • ONS weekly death registrations data for England and Wales, which are released every Tuesday at 9:30am and relate to the week that ended 11 days prior (for example, data for the week ending 20 March are released 31 March)

The daily data provide a vital early indication of COVID-19 deaths that occur in hospitals after a positive test. The weekly deaths figures will include all deaths where the registration mentions COVID-19, including those occurring outside of hospitals (for example, in care homes). Weekly figures by registration date roughly follow the daily figures, with a short time lag. This reflects the time between a death taking place and being officially registered.

A full summary of the differences between the sources is in Table 1.

The ONS publishes weekly provisional deaths data for England and Wales. The figures on COVID-19 deaths are derived from deaths registered in the stated week and include deaths that occurred outside hospital. They are therefore higher than the NHS daily publications. The ONS has also counted all deaths where COVID-19 was mentioned by the certifying doctor as “deaths involving COVID-19”.

On 31 March, for reasons of transparency, the ONS is publishing the number of deaths involving COVID-19 that were registered, the number that actually happened according to our knowledge as of 20 March (the cut-off for the weekly deaths release on 31 March), and the number that actually happened if we include all those we knew about on 25 March.

The ONS is speaking with colleagues in the Devolved Administrations to see whether there is public value in bringing together individual nations data to report at a UK or Great Britain level.

The future work of the DHSC and ONS will continue to focus on providing the best statistics to improve our understanding of the COVID-19 death rate both in hospital and beyond.