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Fact check: Freedom of Information response on COVID-19 deaths lacks context

A social media post has claimed that only 26 patients died from ‘COVID-19 alone’ at a Welsh Health Board. This statistic, however, has been taken out of context in posts that use it to further arguments that the UK’s pandemic response has been disproportionate.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

The post (here) claims that between March 1 and Dec. 31, there had been only 26 deaths from COVID-19 at Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board Wales.

“Any life lost is horrific but this figure sounds more like the true figure rather than those that died following testing positive for COVID 19”, the post writes.

The death stat stems from a legitimate Freedom of Information (FOI) request, which asked the board how many of its patients had died “from COVID-19 alone”.

The response from the board said that at three acute hospitals in the area, there had been 26 deaths where “COVID-19 was given as the only cause of death i.e. no contributing factors” (here).

However, these figures have been taken out of context by the post.

Dr Chris Stockport, Executive Director of Primary and Community Care at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, told Reuters via email that the statistic is not representative of how many people have died as a result of COVID-19.

“It is important to note that the number of people with COVID-19 as the only entry on their certificates of death is small, and does not represent the number of people whose cause of death is as a direct consequence of COVID-19, which is significantly higher”, he said.

That is, even though certain medical conditions increase the risk of death after a person contracts COVID-19, this does not mean that these people would have died anyway.

For many with underlying health conditions, COVID-19 was ultimately the catalyst for their death.

Furthermore, the FOI is also limited in scope in that it only reports deaths from its three main acute hospitals.

Because deaths are not recorded electronically in community hospitals, deaths in these sites were not included in the FOI due to administrative expense, the board said in its response.

VERDICT

Missing context. The figure obtained through the FOI request does not represent the number of people who died as a direct result of COVID-19.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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