COVID1-19 Reported Deaths: FOI release

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

Information requested

I note recently that the deaths from Covid-19 was 3,588 on the  basis of the daily reporting figures. However, the National Records of Scotland reports 5,380 deaths for the same period. If the discrepancy was around 30 deaths, that would be understandable, but a difference of 1,792 requires explanation.

Why does the Scottish Government use the  lower figure?

What is the actual number of deaths from Covid-19?

What figure do your public health officials such as Professor Jason Leitch tell you is the correct one?


There are two main measures we use for counting deaths from COVID-19, and each has a valuable role in helping to monitor the number of deaths in Scotland involving COVID-19.

1. Public Health Scotland (PHS) determines confirmed COVID-19 deaths as individuals who died within 28 days of their first laboratory confirmed report of COVID-19 infection and were registered with National Records of Scotland. These are important because they are available earlier, and give a quicker indication of what is happening day by day and are broadly comparable with the figures released daily for the UK by the Department for Health and Social Care.

2. National Records of Scotland (NRS) provide a weekly summary each Wednesday which includes the cumulative total of all deaths where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate (including suspected COVID-19 deaths) up to 3 days before publication of the report. These deaths do not all need to have a lab positive result as they include deaths where the certifying doctor recorded that COVID-19 was a probable or suspected cause of death on the death certificate. Using the complete death certificate allows NRS to analyse a lot of information, such as location of death and what other health conditions contributed to the death.

The NRS weekly statistics will always include a higher number of deaths when compared to the report provided by PHS at the same point in time. There are a number of reasons why someone may have COVID-19 recorded on their death certificate and be included in the NRS data for COVID-19 deaths but not fulfil the definition of a confirmed COVID-19 death.

  • The individual may not have been tested for COVID-19 but there is a clinical suspicion of COVID.
  • The individual was tested and the results were negative but there is still a clinical suspicion of COVID.
  • The individual has tested positive for COVID and their date of death is more than 28 days from when they were diagnosed with COVID from their first positive laboratory report. The case definitions used for confirmed COVID-19 deaths would not capture an individual who died more than 28 days after they were diagnosed with COVID-19 based on their first positive laboratory report, even if they had subsequent positive results within 28 days of death.

On 21 December, we reported that as at the 20 December there had been 4,283 people who had died who had tested positive. NRS reported that as at 20 December 2020, there had been a total of 6,298 deaths registered in Scotland where the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was mentioned on the death certificate. This shows the difference between the two main measures.

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