Matt Hancock is believed to be calling for an urgent review into concerns that Public Health England’s coronavirus deaths have included anyone who has ever been diagnosed with COVID-19 — even if they did not necessarily die from the disease.
Concerns have been raised that the reported death toll in England appears so high in contrast to neighbouring countries because of flaws in the way Public Health England (PHE) compiled “out of hospital” death statistics.
Epidemiologist Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the University of Oxford's Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine and Professor Yoon Loke, from the University of East Anglia, said the figures record people who have ever tested positive for coronavirus and then have died.
Writing on The Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine’s website, he said: “PHE does not appear to consider how long ago the COVID test result was, nor whether the person has been successfully treated in hospital and discharged to the community.
“Anyone who has tested COVID positive but subsequently died at a later date of any cause will be included on the PHE COVID death figures.
“By this PHE definition, no one with COVID in England is allowed to ever recover from their illness. A patient who has tested positive, but successfully treated and discharged from hospital, will still be counted as a COVID death even if they had a heart attack or were run over by a bus three months later.”
Prof Heneghan said the system explains why PHE figures vary substantially from day to day.
He added: “It’s time to fix this statistical flaw that leads to an over-exaggeration of COVID-associated deaths.
“One reasonable approach would be to define community COVID-related deaths as those that occurred within 21 days of a COVID positive test result.
“In summary, PHE’s definition of the daily death figures means that everyone who has ever had COVID at any time must die with COVID too. So, the COVID death toll in Britain up to July 2020 will eventually exceed 290k, if the follow-up of every test-positive patient is of long enough duration.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock is expected to order an urgent review into the situation, clarifying any confusion over coronavirus deaths.
On the Government death statistics website for England, the issue is acknowledged, saying: “Deaths are counted where a lab-confirmed positive coronavirus test result is reported in any setting.
“This means that not all deaths reported here are caused by coronavirus.”
Yahoo News UK has contacted the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Public Health England (PHE) for comment.
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