The true number of deaths in Somerset?

Lots of publicity has been given to the daily number of cases of COVID 19. And sadly of course to deaths from the virus both nationally and in Somerset. Some are giving daily coverage to the numbers. But what do the numbers mean?

Frankly not much.

The obvious flaw with the number of cases, is that they are derived from people who have been tested. And the number of people tested who are not actually in hospital and suspected to have the virus, is tiny.

To date the UK has not managed to test as many people in total, as Germany is testing in a week.

And we now know that the figure for deaths is also not an exact science. It only includes people who die in hospital and does not include those who die in care homes. Which given that this is a virus that the over 70s are vulnerable to, is going to be an issue.

When we approached Somerset County Council for an estimate, they acknowledged that to date care home deaths were a bit of a guess. Probably in the region of 40% of recorded hospital deaths.

The problem is that initially care homes were not testing for COVID 19. So when deaths occurred they might be suspected deaths from the virus, but could not be confirmed. As we write this, central government is belatedly putting in place a more systematic process. This will apparently track and record non hospital deaths in the same way.

This is why when the daily totals are published for Somerset, the last few days are always listed as “subject to verification”. Even with the small numbers in Somerset, they have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

But if we take yesterday’s total of 22 hospital deaths (7 in Yeovil, 13 in Musgrove and 2 in Somerset Partnership), you can probably add in a further 9-10 in care homes in the county that have not been recorded. Probably, but not certainly.

The Office for National Statistics does also produce weekly figures based on death registrations. This should be more accurate and the latest figures (to 3rd April) take longer as they are more carefully compiled. But interestingly these are by region and not broken down by county.

In this context, the fact that 155 people died of COVID 19 in the South West in the week to 3rd April does not actually tell us that much either.

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