Dear Ed,

Excess Deaths

Please have a look at the attached blog.

Two wrongs don’t make a right – excess deaths

It seems to me that excess deaths is perhaps the single most important metric we have from the (ongoing) Covid-19 period.

Yet there are weaknesses that need to be looked at.

What will the Hallett Inquiry make of:
– three public sector measures of excess deaths all giving different results from different methodologies. Why not one set of results? There is a lack of explanation of the merits and purposes of the various measures.
– the simplistic methodology of the ONS (using past years’ averages not a trend assessment) which is served up without explanation or justification (and leads to over-estimation of excess deaths). Were other methods discussed but rejected?
– the simplistic methodology of the ONS which, by including Covid deaths in the underlying/expected deaths figures, distorts the in-year interpretation from month to month when the past was affected by Covid-19 waves
– the lack of explanation of the aim of the ONS measure. What do excess deaths mean now as the “expected” figures include Covid-19 deaths?
– that many of the blogs or explanatory releases/guides are out of date in terms of directing users to the key sources
– no comprehensive up to date assessment of what the underlying trends are. This would include all measures, including the respected CMI measure.
– UKSA/OSR near silence on the topic (I don’t see much on the site when searching “excess deaths”)
– as the “independent” bodies producing the numbers have no incentive to get together to agree a way forward, do ministers need to get involved?
– has there been any communication between UKSA/OSR and the media about accuracy of reporting of excess deaths?
– what papers have been discussed at the UKSA board on this topic?
– who produces the summary assessment for ministers?

One might add the fragmented framework between the four nations but I am increasingly sceptical of the effort being put into UK-wide data harmonisation – it isn’t going to happen, the political drivers will widen the divide, so we should just accept it.

Could you offer a view on these issues and publish the response on the OSR site?

Best wishes,



Related links

Ed Humpherson to Simon Briscoe: Excess Deaths (13 February 2023)

OSR’s review of excess deaths reporting (13 February 2023)