Fact Check: British Agency Does NOT Confirm 'Just 5,115 People' Have Died Of COVID-19 In England Since Beginning Of Pandemic

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne
Fact Check: British Agency Does NOT Confirm 'Just 5,115 People' Have Died Of COVID-19 In England Since Beginning Of Pandemic Miscounting

Did England's National Health Service confirm that only 5,155 people have died of COVID-19 in England since the beginning of the pandemic? No, that's not true: As of April 28, 2022, the death toll for the pandemic was more than 161,000, according to the U.K. government's coronavirus website. The U.K. Office of National Statistics says COVID deaths are cases where the virus was the "underlying cause" of death.

The claim appeared in an article (archived here) published by The Exposé on April 27, 2022, under the title "160,000 COVID Deaths? - NHS confirms just 5,115 people have died of COVID-19 in England since beginning of Pandemic." It opened:

The UK Government claims over 160,000 people have died of Covid-19 in England since March 2020, and they have used these claimed deaths to frighten people into compliance with ridiculous rules for the past two years.

But reports published by England's National Health Service (NHS) reveal that as of 20th April 2022, just 5,115 people have died of Covid-19 in England since the alleged pandemic began.

This is what the post looked like on The Exposé on April 28, 2022:

Expose' cropped.png

(Source: The Exposé screenshot taken on Thu Apr 28 14:19:35 2022 UTC)

The numbers being used in The Exposé article come from the "COVID-19 total deaths - weekly summaries" report published by the National Health Service England on April 21, 2022. The table shows 114,721 people have died in hospitals in England from the virus. Of that number, 109,606 had at least one pre-existing condition and 5,115 had none.


(Source: NHS England screenshot taken on Thu Apr 28 15:47:23 2022 UTC)

By saying "just 5,115 people" have died of COVID-19 in England since the start of the pandemic, the article ignores the deaths of anyone with pre-existing conditions or comorbidities. It also ignores people who died of the virus outside hospitals.

In a January 26, 2022, blog post, the U.K.'s Office of National Statistics explained how COVID deaths are counted:

Regardless of the cause of death, it is very common for the person dying to have a pre-existing health condition of some sort, but this does not mean that the person was at imminent risk of dying from that condition, or even considered to have a reduced life expectancy.

For those people dying from COVID-19, the most common pre-existing condition was diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic condition, that is serious and may make a person more vulnerable to other health problems, but this does not mean they were at risk of dying from it. ...

Doctors are required by law to certify the cause of death 'to the best of their knowledge and belief'. That means they use their medical expertise to decide the cause based on symptoms, physical examination, hospital records, laboratory tests, and all the other information available.

A doctor certifying a death can list all causes in the chain of events that led to the death and pre-existing conditions that may have contributed to the death, and this is used to determine an underlying cause of death. We use the term 'due to COVID-19' when referring only to deaths for which COVID-19 was the underlying cause. When taking into account all of the deaths that had COVID-19 mentioned on the death certificate, whether as an underlying cause or as contributing to the death, we use the term 'involving COVID-19'.

There is a huge range of pre-existing conditions that can be listed on the death certificate, from heart disease and cancers, to obesity and heart arrhythmias. For the more than 140,000 deaths [more than 161,000 as of April 28, 2022] that were due to COVID-19, it has been determined that COVID-19 was the underlying cause of death, as opposed to one of these pre-existing conditions.

An August 31, 2020, article by Lead Stories explained the difference between dying "from" COVID and "with" COVID:

'Comorbidity' is not the same as cause of death

'Comorbidity' data has been collected since early in the pandemic. It's a scientific term that means the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient, not two or more causes of death. The medical professional who signs a death certificate determines the immediate cause of death, but often notes other conditions the patient had at the time of death. Those are comorbidities.

Board-certified forensic pathologists are trained to determine the immediate cause of death, but often note co-existing and contributing factors, says Dr. Patricia A. Aronica, Florida District 19 medical examiner.

So, when a person who dies in a car crash also has COVID-19, the death certificate correctly declares the crash injuries as the cause of death. Conversely, when a person dies of the lung and organ failure that are the body's response to COVID-19 infection, the death certificate correctly attributes the death to COVID-19, even if the person was previously living with diabetes, heart disease or other conditions. 'They would die with it, not because of it,' said Aronica of the comorbidities.

Comorbidities are common. As many as 82 million Americans with employer-based insurance have a pre-existing condition, ranging from life-threatening illnesses like cancer to chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, according to analysis by the Department of Health and Human Services. Some 50 million to 129 million (19% to 50% of) non-elderly Americans have some type of pre-existing health condition.

Lead Stories has previously debunked articles by The Exposé that misrepresented COVID numbers from England.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

  Ed Payne

Ed Payne is a staff writer at Lead Stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist as part of CNN’s coverage of 9/11. Ed worked at CNN for nearly 24 years with the CNN Radio Network and CNN Digital. Most recently, he was a Digital Senior Producer for Gray Television’s Digital Content Center, the company’s digital news hub for 100+ TV stations. Ed also worked as a writer and editor for WebMD. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Ed is the author of two children’s book series: “The Daily Rounds of a Hound” and “Vail’s Tales.” 

Read more about or contact Ed Payne

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