Covid outcomes – has BBC Scotland revealed this to you yet?

First wave: excess deaths were substantially higher in England than in Scotland

Second wave: Scotland did not see the same increase in excess deaths seen in the rest of the UK

To date:  the cumulative death rate from COVID has been substantially lower in Scotland than in England and Wales

By stewartb

I’ve been on the lookout for an up-to-date, concise, clear summary from an authoritative source of a comparative analysis of key Covid statistics for the UK nations. It’s been a feature of corporate media and the BBC throughout to avoid or at best downplay any such objective comparison.

Well, I’ve just found one such analysis and from an unexpected source: it’s from a research study whose prime focus is on government financing of the Covid response in England and its implications for the response in NI, Scotland and Wales.

The report is entitled ‘Designing and funding the devolved nations’ policy responses to COVID-19’. Published on 22 April 2021, it is written by David Bell, Professor of Economics at the University of Stirling; David Eiser, Senior Fellow at the Fraser of Allander Institute (FoAI); and David Phillips, Associate Director at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).  (Note the IFS’ involvement – so what follows must be ’authoritative’!)


The report asks the question: “Was the COVID-19 pandemic an asymmetric shock?” at the level of the UK nations. It examines health outcomes whilst arguing that there is no single measure which summarises the additional demands placed on health and social care provision by the pandemic. However, the report concludes that the best indicator is overall ‘excess deaths’ – calculated as the percentage increase in deaths relative to the previous five years for each week during the pandemic.

It correctly notes: “This will not depend on COVID-19 testing or recording policies, and may pick up changes in deaths due to other causes (e.g. other diseases, accidents, etc.) that have also been impacted by the pandemic.”

The outcomes have not been the same

Excess deaths for the UK nations are shown on a comparable basis in Figure 1 (reproduced from this Bell et al report). The authors point to the following features:

  • timing is broadly similar throughout – (although I’d argue in detail not precisely so)
    • April-May 2020: during the first wave excess deaths were substantially higher in England than in the devolved nations.
    • November 2020 to February 2021: the pattern is more irregular, with Wales having the highest level of excess deaths in December 2020 and January 2021 but falling to the lowest level by the end of February and also relatively high again in England
      • Scotland did not see the same increase in excess deaths between mid-December and mid- February seen to varying extents in the rest of the UK – and especially in England and Wales.

This ‘excess deaths’ graph reveals both less of a rise in ‘excess deaths’ and a more stable position in Scotland during the second wave than in the other three UK nations.

I wonder if those in Scotland reliant on the corporate media or the BBC for their information on the health outcomes of the pandemic have an awareness of these facts?

Cumulative totals

The authors also plot (in their Figure 2, reproduced below) deaths per 100,000 population since the start of the pandemic. They use as the measure where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate. They argue that: “Despite the potential for differences in reporting policies between the nations, this is the best available measure if one wants to consider health and social care expenditures specifically related to COVID-19.” They make the following (obvious) observation:

  • by early April 2021: the cumulative death rate from COVID-19 was higher in Wales than in England, while Scotland and Northern Ireland experienced lower death rates.

It is notable that one part of the UK, namely NI, separated physically from Great Britain and bordering another independent nation state first diverged from the rUK trend in mid April 2020 and maintained a substantially lower death rate per 100,000 population throughout the pandemic to date.

It was around mid December 2020 that the rate of rising mortality in Scotland became different – lower – from that in England. As the graph shows, the cumulative deaths per 100,000 population associated with Covid in England and Wales is currently substantially higher than in Scotland.

Again, will those in Scotland reliant on the corporate media or the BBC for their information on the health outcomes of the pandemic have an awareness of this fact!

5 thoughts on “Covid outcomes – has BBC Scotland revealed this to you yet?

  1. Looks like an interesting paper though I’m not sure I’d agree that death certificates are the best method of comparison. The fact that, early in the pandemic, care home deaths based on death certificates were higher in Scotland but excess deaths in care homes were much higher in England, suggests that England was under-counting Covid deaths on death certificates early in the pandemic. Also, the chart on death certificates shows Wales has the highest death toll but the excess deaths chart suggests it’s England, supporting idea that England has been under-counting on death certificates. For much of the pandemic, the UK has used the same testing system across the UK for most tests so I think that the deaths within 28 days is probably a more comparable measurement, as criteria is simple and identical across UK nations.

    I also think that we should be looking at comparator regions when comparing Scotland’s Covid response to RUK, given differences in underlying health and socioeconomic profile of population. North East England (like Nuffield Trust has used in the past) or East of England are good candidates due to their age, socioeconomic profile, morbidity and percent urban/rural population. They have death rates 55-60% higher than Scotland

    I think the main reason Northern Ireland has a lower death rate than Scotland is due to the fact it has a significantly higher percent of the population living in rural areas. NRS has found the Covid 19 death rate is 3.7 times higher in major urban areas than remote rural areas (compared to 1.3 times for all deaths) so this is an important factor for Covid 19

    Liked by 2 people

  2. We know that Scotland counted deaths where covid19 was the cause of death
    but Scotland also counted deaths where covid MIGHT have caused the deaths

    We know that England only counted deaths where covid19 caused the death

    I wondered how Scotland would have gotten details of deaths where covid19 MIGHT have caused the deaths , did doctors in Scotland actually write on death certificates that covid19 might have caused the death or
    been a contributing factor ?

    I think they did , i recall Nicola Sturgeon saying this on one of her daily covid briefings

    This then begs the question , did the authors of this report include MIGHT haves in their Scotland figures

    I BET they did
    Which means their comparison with england is unreasonable
    They should have discarded the MIGHT,s for Scotland then compared with englands deaths

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thanks, Stewartb. Very informative.

    And in answer to your (rhetorical) question, I must be having a senior moment. I can’t recall that they have mentioned it yet.

    OTOH, I don’t watch BBCS any more. OT Other OH, I’m sure one of the good people on this blog would have mentioned it if the Beeb had.


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