From: stewartb 

Headlined by BBC UK: ‘Figures released in the last hour in Scotland suggest more people have died after contracting …

Reading more from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) about death statistics.


“… figures for a particular cause of death can be produced on THREE BASES:

• ‘UNDERLYING CAUSE’ – cases where it was the disease or injury which initiated the chain of morbid events leading directly to death, or was the accident/act which produced the fatal injury;

• ‘CONTRIBUTORY FACTOR’’ – cases where it was not the underlying cause of death, but it did contribute to the occurrence of the death – e.g. it did not cause the death, but may have hastened its occurrence;

• ‘ANY MENTION’ – i.e. whether it appeared to be the underlying cause of the death, or was just a factor which contributed to, or may have hastened, the occurrence of the death.”

The same source adds : “Figures are normally provided on the basis of the ‘underlying cause’. Every death has just one ‘underlying cause’ code, and so is counted only once in figures which are produced on the ‘underlying cause’ basis.”

“A death may have several other causes coded as contributory factors, so could be counted several times in figures which are produced on the ‘contributory factor’ or ‘any mention’ bases. For that reason, figures are normally provided on the basis of the ‘underlying cause’.”

However, NRS is currently reporting the number of deaths where Coronavirus has been ‘MENTIONED’ in death registration certificates.


“Between 30th March to 5th April, 282 deaths relating to COVID-19 have been registered”. And for context: “… the total number of deaths registered in Scotland from 30th March to 5th April  was 1,741. The average number of deaths registered in the same week over the last five years was 1,098.”

The NRS Director of Statistical Services explains: “We have produced these statistics based on deaths involving COVID-19, so this includes any deaths where COVID-19 is mentioned on the death certificate, whether it is the underlying cause of death or a contributory cause and includes registered deaths resulting from suspected or probable COVID-19.”

The same source adds: “Using this methodology means that our statistics will differ from the number of deaths released daily by HPS (Health Protection Scotland) which report on deaths with an associated positive test for COVID-19, and it is expected that NRS statistics will show a higher number of deaths. This is because NRS figures report on deaths involving confirmed and also suspected or probable cases of COVID-19.”

So perhaps ‘accuracy’, as a strict statistical term, should be used with caution. This may be a more appropriate characterisation: the NRS data provide a better representation of the overall impact on mortality of the virus. However, the partitioning between ‘underlying cause’ and ‘contributory factor’ is still to be made public as far as I can see.

Also, we will in time no doubt learn about ‘excess mortality’ i.e. a significant number of deaths reported OVER THAT EXPECTED for a given point in the year based on historical patterns.