Excess deaths in Scotland: FOI review

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Information requested

Due to the large amount of excess deaths in Scotland over the past 2 years, are the Scottish Government looking into the causes, and if not, why not?


We closely monitor excess deaths statistics and work closely with our analytical partners Public Health Scotland and National Records of Scotland (NRS) to understand the causes as well as the wider impact of COVID-19 on Scotland’s population.

The largest underlying cause of recent non-COVID-19 excess deaths in Scotland has been “Other causes”, followed by Respiratory and Circulatory deaths. The “Other causes” category includes a wide range of causes, from endocrine and metabolic diseases to diseases of the digestive system to external causes of death (e.g. drug-related deaths, accidents, suicides). It also includes deaths which have an unascertained cause whilst being investigated by the Procurator Fiscal.

NRS publish a more detailed breakdown of deaths to aid understanding of the specific causes of death within each of these categories. This can be found in table Q4 of the Births, Deaths and Other Vital Events – Quarterly Figures. A further breakdown of deaths by cause is provided annually in the Vital Events Reference Tables which are currently published for 2020 and 2021. The Vital Events Refrence Tables for 2022 are expected to be published in June 2023.

The COVID-19 Recovery Committee undertook an Inquiry to explore the extent to which excess deaths are being caused by the COVID-19 caseload, or the indirect effects of the pandemic. The overriding message from the inquiry was that it is still too early to be definitive about the exact impact the pandemic has had in terms of excess deaths in Scotland, given the short-term fluctuations in deaths and the complexity in disentangling those caused by COVID-19 from those where COVID-19 may have been contributory or coincidental.

Further, the Scottish COVID-19 Public Inquiry has been established to independently investigate aspects of the devolved strategic response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Scotland. The inquiry will provide a factual record of key elements of the strategic handling of the pandemic, and it will make recommendations, based on the lessons learned. Its investigation will be in the fields of health, education and support as set out in the Terms of Reference.

Please be assured the Scottish Government remain committed to reviewing the latest evidence to understand the causes of excess deaths and the impact of the pandemic on excess mortality. The myriad direct and indirect effects of COVID-19 on health and mortality is of the greatest importance and we share the desire to better understand the complex contributing factors in play.

About FOI

The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses.


Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road

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