1. Main points

  • Between 1 April and 30 June 2017, there were 117,220 deaths registered in England, lower than in the same period in 2013, 2015 and 2016.
  • The number of deaths registered so far in 2017 is lower than in 2015 (a particularly high year) but is higher than 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016.
  • From Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2001 to Quarter 2 2017, age-standardised mortality rates have decreased by 28% for males and 23% for females; since 2011, despite some year-on-year increases in rate, there has been an overall 6% decrease for males and 4% decrease for females.
  • The number of deaths that occurred between 22 and 27 May, and 17 and 21 June 2017 were considerably higher than the five-year average; these coincided with periods of increased temperature in England relative to the five-year average.
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2. Things you need to know about this release

The purpose of this report is to provide timely surveillance of mortality in England. This report serves as a snapshot of deaths that were registered within the most recent quarter using the best available data. Through comparative analyses with previous quarters, it aims to inform patterns of change in mortality; specifically whether mortality has increased, remained stable or decreased.

This report will mainly focus on Quarter 2, which covers 1 April to 30 June. Throughout the report, all mentions of years refer to Quarter 2 of that specific year. The only exception is section 5 of the report, which looks at an annual count of rolling quarterly deaths across all quarters of the year (Quarter 1 to Quarter 4). In this instance, the specific quarter will be stated alongside the year where Quarter 1 is January to March, Quarter 2 is April to June, Quarter 3 is July to September and Quarter 4 is October to December.

Previous quarterly reports have been based on death occurrences rather than death registrations. Death occurrences report the number of deaths that occurred within a reference period to allow period specific comparisons and thereby aim to enable timely judgements on the direction and magnitude of change. We can only know when a death has occurred once it has been registered. However, due to registration delays, death occurrences data can often be incomplete, especially towards the end of the quarter. Due to user feedback this current report will be based mainly on death registrations. This is in line with typical mortality statistics, which are usually based upon the date on which a death was registered (death registrations) rather than the date it occurred (death occurrences).

Death registrations data for 2017 are provisional; however, we would only expect very small changes to death counts once data are made final. A provisional extract of death registrations and death occurrences data for Quarter 2 (1 April to 30 June) 2017 was created on 28 July 2017, roughly 4 weeks after the end of the reporting period.

The quarterly populations used in rate calculations are adjusted using mid-year population estimates or a combination of mid-year population estimates (2001 to 2016) and population projections (2016 for those aged 90 and over and 2017 for all ages) to estimate what the likely population would have been at the mid-point of the quarter. More detail is provided in the background information at the end of this report.

The statistics reported here are Experimental Statistics and allow us to demonstrate to users some of the analyses possible in the future and to seek feedback to inform the future presentation of timely mortality data. We welcome feedback from users on this report at mortality@ons.gov.uk

This publication was produced with support from Public Health England and Department of Health.

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3. There were 117,220 deaths registered in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2017 in England

From 1 April to 30 June 2017, there were 117,220 deaths registered in England, which was higher than the same quarter in both 2012 and 2014 but lower than that for 2013, 2015 and 2016. The 2017 provisional estimate had 130 (0.1%) more deaths registered compared with the average of the previous five years (Table 1a).

An expected number of deaths in 2017 can be calculated by applying the mortality rate of earlier years to the 2017 population (Table 1b). Using this method there are fewer deaths than we would have expected in 2017. For example, there were 7,460 fewer deaths in Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2017 than would be expected if the population in 2017 had the same mortality rate as the 2012 to 2016 average, despite there being slightly more deaths.

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5. Count of death registrations for rolling four-quarter periods

Figure 3 plots the rolling four-quarter count of death registrations from the period Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2001 to Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2001 up to the period Quarter 3 (July to Sept) 2016 to Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2017.

The death count over rolling four-quarter periods provides further analysis of the trend in death registrations across all quarters with the advantage of smoothing the data and reducing seasonality in mortality.

Population data has steadily increased from 49.5 million in the four quarters ending Quarter 4 2001 (Quarter 1 2001 to Quarter 4 2001) to a projection of 55.6 million in the four quarters ending Quarter 2 2017 (Quarter 3 2016 to Quarter 2 2017). With the population increasing, it would be expected that the number of deaths would also increase if there were no improvements to health and life expectancy; however, from the four-quarter period ending Quarter 4 2003, death registrations started to decline while the population at risk was growing. This decrease in deaths continued until the four quarters ending Quarter 4 2011 (Quarter 1 2011 to Quarter 4 2011). Since then the number of deaths in the following four-quarter rolling periods were higher than the period ending Quarter 4 2011.

In the four quarters ending Quarter 2 2017 (Quarter 3 2016 to Quarter 2 2017), there were 497,492 deaths registered in England. This was a decrease from the quarters ending Quarter 1 2017 with 4,629 fewer death registrations. Death registrations in the four quarters ending Quarter 2 2017 were of a similar magnitude to the first data point in Figure 3, period ending Quarter 4 2001 (Quarter 1 2001 to Quarter 4 2001), which had 497,878 death registrations. However, as Figures 1a to 1d illustrate, although number of deaths are similar now to 2001, the age-standardised rates are considerably lower as the population has aged and has increased in size over this time.

To assess whether the number of deaths registered in 2017 so far are higher than in recent years, Figure 4 shows the sum of the number of deaths that have been registered in both Quarters 1 and 2 (the period January to June) for the years 2012 to 2017. As shown in Figure 4, the number of deaths registered so far in 2017 was lower than in 2015 (a particularly high year) but higher than 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016. However, these death counts do not account for changes in population size and structure. We will explore this in future quarterly reports using age-standardised rates.

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7. Background information

Deaths data sources

A provisional extract of death registrations and death occurrences data for Quarter 2 (1 April to 30 June) 2017 was created on 28 July 2017, roughly four weeks after the end of the reporting period. For this reason, we would expect death occurrences to increase, because of registration delays, which will not be accounted for by 28 July 2017. In exceptional circumstances there may also be changes to the number of registrations but these would be very small. Registrations data for years prior to 2017 are final, whereas occurrences data prior to 2016 are final.

Registration delays on occurrences

In England, deaths should be registered within five days of the death occurring, but there are some circumstances that result in the registration of the death being delayed. Deaths considered unexpected, accidental or suspicious will be referred to a coroner who may order a post mortem or carry out a full inquest to ascertain the reasons for the death. The coroner can only register the death once any investigation is concluded and they are satisfied that the death was natural and that the cause of death has been certified correctly.

If the coroner is not satisfied that the death was from natural causes then an inquest will normally be held to determine the cause of death. The time taken to investigate the circumstances of the death can often result in a death registration exceeding the five-day grace period and these are defined as registration delays. While delays are commonly only a few days, registration delays can extend into years, particularly for deaths from external causes when inquests are held. We are only aware of a death and able to include it in the statistics once it has been registered.

Those at younger ages are disproportionally affected by registration delays due to external causes of death being more common in these ages. However, in general, deaths at such ages are not very common and make up only a small percentage of all deaths.

The death occurrences dataset for 2017 will not hold all deaths that occurred in the quarter due to late registrations. Where death occurrences have been used in this report, deaths for previous years have been extracted using a similar extraction date as the 2017 occurrences data. This allows for control over registration delays.

Expected deaths methodology

For each respective year, single year of age mortality rates were calculated. These were then applied to the population projections for 2017 to calculate the number of expected deaths in each single year of age using the mortality rate from the respective year. From this we were able to calculate the difference between observed and expected deaths in 2017.

Quarterly population denominators

We publish the mid-year population estimates used for calculating rates. For 2017, the 2014-based ONS population projections were used. Care should be taken when using the 2014-based population projections as they will not take into account the high number of deaths in 2015.

Single year of age populations for the oldest ages (90 to 100 and over) for 2002 to 2015 were taken from the mid-year population estimates of the very old publication. For 2001 the population estimates for ages 90 and over were used and for 2016 and 2017 the 2014-based ONS population projections were used.

Calculation of mortality rates for quarterly deaths requires adjustments to be made to annual population estimates in order to calculate rates that are comparable with annual rates.

We calculate an annual population centred on the mid-point of the quarter using two years’ worth of population estimates or projections. This is then multiplied by the proportion of the number of days within a quarter of the total number of days within that year. The output is used as the population denominator in calculations of age-standardised and age-specific morality rates. This is calculated using the following formula:

Where m is the number of days from 1 July 2016 (the start of the mid-year for the population estimate) to the midpoint of the relevant quarter, inclusive, N is the number of days in Quarter 2 2017 and M is the number of days in 2017 and (i) is the age group.

This method is very similar to that used to calculate population denominators for quarterly conception rates.

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8. Quality and methodology

The Mortality Quality and Methodology Information report contains important information on:

  • the strengths and limitations of the data and how it compares with related data
  • uses and users of the data
  • how the output was created
  • the quality of the output including the accuracy of the data

The User Guide to Mortality Statistics is also a useful resource when reporting mortality statistics.

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Contact details for this Article

Annie Campbell
Telephone: +44(0)1633 455292