Scottish Government changes how COVID-19 deaths are counted
In future “suspected” deaths both in hospital and in the community will be counted in the official figures
The Scottish Government has announced it is changing the way it counts deaths due to COVID-19, as the number of deaths from the virus increased by 50 overnight.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said information on the daily number of deaths will be taken from National Records of Scotland official death registrations, in addition to data from individual health boards.
She also confirmed that as of next week “suspected” deaths, where coronavirus or COVID-19 are mentioned on the death certificate, will be counted. These will include deaths which occur both in hospital and in the community.
Sturgeon made the announcement as the total number of deaths in Scotland from COVID-19 increased to 126, an overnight rise of 50. She said, however, that 40 of those deaths occurred over previous days and were only being published on Thursday as a result of delayed information from a laboratory because of “family liaison” reasons.
She said: “Part of the cruelty of this virus is when people are in hospital and when they’re dying, their family members are not able to be with them and therefore it is taking a bit longer for families to be informed and for them to give consent to all of the things that are required.
“We have been trying to make sure that before deaths are notified and published, that families have the correct notification and consent. There are a number of cases where that has taken a bit longer, which is why they haven’t been notified.”
She said “every single death is a tragedy” and explained that the 40 deaths would be “distributed” over several days to more accurately reflect the death rate.
She also confirmed that a total of 2,602 people had tested positive for the disease. Of those, 1,282 had required hospitalisation and 162 were in intensive care.
Sturgeon admitted that the new method of counting would likely see an increase in the total number of recorded deaths, but said that it was important to have information that is “accurate, comprehensive and up to date as possible".
The First Minister was joined by the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, Dr Catherine Calderwood, and the Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman.
They also discussed the procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to NHS and social care staff, as well as the rate and type of testing that is available.
Sturgeon said that 3,400 NHS workers or family members of NHS workers had been tested for the virus so far.
She estimated that capacity for testing across Scotland at present was around 1,900 a day, and the Scottish Government aimed to up that capacity to 3,000 a day “by the end of April”.
But Calderwood said debate over Scotland and the UK’s ability to test high numbers of people was a “distraction” from what measures were required to slow the spread of the virus.
Asked by a journalist if she accepted the Scottish and UK governments had underperformed on testing, especially compared with countries like Germany, Sturgeon said “no”.
She added: “It’s important we don’t overstate what testing can and can’t achieve.”
Calderwood said she had been warning “for several weeks now” about “the distraction that testing could become”
She said: “The thought that it somehow slows the virus or is a part of strategy to prevent transmission is a fallacy, I’m afraid.
“The testing gives us more info, but the social distancing measures are what we actually need to prevent the spread and prevent serious illness and death.”
Sturgeon said the government would look again at the role that testing could play once the lockdown measures began to be lifted. But she said she would not be drawn in to speculation as to when that would be.
Freeman discussed new guidelines which would be published on the use of PPE for people who care for the sick, including frontline NHS staff and home care providers.
Pushed by a journalist as to how all the 40 delayed death figures could be from one single laboratory if the cause was related to family consent, Sturgeon said the government was “still trying to verify all the information”.
She added: “I am not going to stand here right now and try to give answers to questions when I don't have all the detail of the information.
“But people should be absolutely certain about one thing and that is that I want to be as transparent around this as I possibly can be, because it is in everybody's interest that that’s the case because I am relying on people across the country doing the right thing.”