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Statistics can sometimes be misleading

Twickenham Town achieves excess deaths below zero

Several areas, including Twickenham Town, achieved an average of zero or below excess deaths according to numbers published this week by the Office of National Statistics.

Excess deaths are widely accepted as the best indicator of the pandemic’s impact, as they take into account knock on factors such as the increased difficulty in accessing healthcare and other essential services.

The reason for the below zero excess deaths, according to Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics Kevin McConway is due to the lockdowns effect on supressing other causes of death, and the way that the data is presented in the ONS report.

He said: “If you simply take the Covid deaths out of consideration and consider the difference between the non-Covid deaths across both waves and the five-year average, then the majority of areas across the country have negative numbers of excess deaths.

“Lockdowns and other measures reduced the number of contacts between people, so other diseases like influenza weren’t passed on and so people didn’t die from that.“

Another lifesaving side effect of the lockdown was the reduction of road deaths due to fewer people travelling.

The reduction in non-Covid deaths is also caused by how deaths or categorised in these statistics.

McConway added: “Some people that died of Covid would, if it weren’t for catching Covid, have died from something else instead.

“The number of non-Covid excess deaths varies from place to place, but in some places it is so marked that the shortage of non-Covid deaths is greater than the number of Covid deaths.”

While the data has potential value for future research, McConway also warned against misinterpretations that can result from the small sample sizes.

He said: “For relatively small areas like these, the five-year average numbers of deaths are not statistically very stable.

“An area could have a negative number of excess deaths simply because its five-year average deaths happened, by chance, to be untypically high.”

The MSOA areas on which the data is based have populations as small as 5000, which can lead to local events having a strong impact not represented in the statistics.

Examples could include things like growing and shrinking populations or the opening and closing of care homes.

You can examine the ONS statistics for your neighbourhood on the interactive map below:

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