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Fact check: NHS England data does not show there have only been 3000 COVID deaths

A blog alleging that NHS records show only 3,000 people have died from COVID-19 has been shared widely online. However, this claim is false: deaths from COVID-19 that involve other conditions still ‘count’ as deaths from the novel coronavirus.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

The article was published on Feb. 17, 2021 and its primary claim reads: “One-hundred-thousand Covid deaths in just 11 months? Pull the other one! We’ve only seen just over three-thousand.” (here)

The blog references NHS England data announced on Feb. 4, 2021 showing total weekly deaths of people who have died in hospital in England and tested positive for COVID-19 since May 21, 2020 (here). The figures show that 71,138 people died from COVID-19 with a pre-existing health condition, whereas only 3,111 people died from the disease with no known pre-existing conditions.

Firstly, this data from English hospitals should not be compared with the 100,000 COVID-19 deaths figure that was announced on Jan. 26, 2021, as this was based on total deaths data across the United Kingdom, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (here).

Secondly, the data does not show ‘only 3,111 people died’ from the novel coronavirus, as the blog claims. Rather, it means that comorbidity, or the existence of two or more conditions or illnesses in a patient, is a common feature in coronavirus deaths. Comorbidity does not exclude COVID-19, but combines it with other illnesses, often triggered by the new coronavirus itself.

Debunking a similar claim from 2020 that only 6% of COVID-related deaths in the United States “actually died” from COVID-19 , Dr. Maja Artandi, medical director of the Stanford CROWN Clinic for COVID-19 patients (here), told Reuters via email that it was “not a big surprise” most COVID-19 deaths involved other conditions.

This is because “patients who have a comorbidity such as diabetes, hypertension or obesity have a higher risk of getting seriously ill and dying from COVID-19.” The numbers are also consistent with the fact that the novel coronavirus “can cause severe damage to the organs in the body such as the lungs, which then leads to respiratory failure and death.”

The key thing to understand, Dr. Artandi said, is that “if they had not gotten the infection…they would still be alive.” (here).

Dr Tom Wingfield, Senior Clinical Lecturer at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, also told Reuters via email: “Covid-19 - either as a direct cause or significant contributory factor - is responsible for the excess deaths seen in the UK in 2020.” (here).

The blog making the claim continues: “Do you understand now that the majority of the deaths that the authorities would have you believe were due to Covid-19 have actually occurred in people who were unfortunately already knocking on deaths door?”

This, again, is false. Many people live with underlying health conditions for a long time. Diabetes, which accounts for 26% of all COVID-19 deaths with pre-existing health conditions in English hospitals (here , Feb. 18, 2021 weekly file, table 4 ‘death by condition’), is described by the NHS as ‘a lifelong condition’ (here).

Dan Howarth, Head of Care at Diabetes UK, told Reuters via email: “Diabetes is serious, and if not managed correctly it can lead to complications such as heart and kidney problems. However, with early diagnosis and the correct management, people with all types of diabetes can live long, healthy lives. There are many treatments available for people with diabetes, and for some people with type 2 diabetes, it’s possible to put the condition into remission.

“While people with diabetes are not at higher risk of catching Covid-19, they are at higher risk of serious illness if they do. Managing an infection alongside diabetes puts additional strain on the body and sadly around 30% of those who have died from Covid-19 also had diabetes.”

Asthma is another pre-existing illness that increases a person’s risk of developing complications from COVID-19, but the NHS states the common condition can otherwise be managed with simple treatments and ‘does not have a big impact on your life’ (www.nhs.uk/conditions/asthma/).

While most coronavirus deaths involve other conditions, government research suggests that for each additional death during the first wave of the pandemic, the person dying lost, on average, about 10.5 years of life (here).

VERDICT

False. NHS data published on Feb. 4, 2021 showed that 71,138 people died of COVID-19 with pre-existing health conditions in England and 3,111 who died didn’t have any other illnesses. All these cases count as COVID-19 deaths.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts www.reuters.com/fact-check/about .

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