“Internal polling” claims it has “better methodology”.

An email on behalf of London Mayor candidate Shaun Bailey cites “internal polling”. This email also makes claims about public opinion polling.

In short

  • A campaign email claims “a majority of voters” believe their candidate will do a better job as Mayor.
  • The campaign neglected to share information, like question wording, about the polling methods.
  • The email asserted public polling “looked different” in the 2008 London mayoral election. This is likely to be misleading. Survey research suggested a close contest, with consistent differences between companies.

Hello (from the inside)

An email from the campaign director for Shaun Bailey asserts:

I was looking through our latest internal polling. And I thought you’d want to see this. …

Public Health England: “This data should be interpreted with caution”.

Claims on social media and elsewhere say there were no excess deaths in England in December. This seems to be misunderstanding Public Health England all-cause mortality surveillance report.

In short

  • Public Health England all-cause mortality surveillance report shows deaths by when people died.
  • The model seeks to account for reporting delays. The figures are subject to revision.
  • After revisions, the report shows excess deaths throughout December. The Office for National Statistics records excess deaths with a different calculation method.

Models and revisions

Some assert that there are no excess deaths in England in recent weeks.

For example, Laura Dodsworth (The Critic) wrote:

The two most recent Public Health England All-Cause Mortality Surveillance reports (31 December and 7 January) show no statistically significant excess all-cause mortality. Looking at excess deaths on a graph over previous years, this winter looks fairly typical. …

The Guardian reports the UK reaching 100,000 COVID-19 deaths.

The Guardian newspaper reports the headline:

UK coronavirus deaths pass 100,000 after 1,564 reported in one day

Neither Public Health England nor the Office for National Statistics report this total. It is a blend of two distinct measures. We should expect UK deaths involving COVID-19 to exceed 100,000 in the future.

Distinct measures

Public Health England (PHE) run the main UK COVID-19 dashboard. This daily report shows two measures of deaths:

Deaths within 28 days of positive test

In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland: deaths from any cause within 28 days of a positive test. In Wales: this is a count of deaths with a positive test for SARS-CoV-2 in Welsh hospitals or care homes. …

What NHS England statistics tell us about COVID-19 patients.

There are queries about NHS England hospitals during this pandemic.

This article aims aim to answer those questions.

Questions and answers

Here are some questions about NHS hospital statistics.

Where can I find statistics about hospitals in England?

The NHS England website contains several reports about COVID-19:

  • COVID-19 Daily Deaths: this data set contains figures on deaths in English hospitals. The deceased person must have a positive test result in the past 28 days.
  • COVID-19 Hospital Activity: there is a daily and monthly report. Those reports cover COVID-19 admissions, occupied beds and mechanical ventilator beds.
  • COVID-19 Vaccinations: the weekly report contains the number of NHS COVID-19 vaccinations. …

Most deceased people with a positive test die due to the disease.

A common question is: are people dying with COVID-19 or due to COVID-19?

In short

  • The daily measure in England counts: deaths within 28 days of a positive test result.
  • Up to 3rd August, 95% of these deaths had COVID-19 on the death certificate.
  • In England and Wales, about 9 in 10 registered deaths involving COVID-19 had the disease as the cause.

Counts and certificates

Viruses spread in the body by invading cells and then reproducing copies of itself. That virus moves on to inhabit nearby cells. In serious cases, SARS-CoV-2 lands in the lungs. That can trigger inflammation as the body tries to fight the virus. It can also injure other organs. …

What are the hospital admissions by age?

A matron in a London hospital claimed on BBC Radio 5 Live:

It was minimally affecting children in the first wave. We have a whole ward of children here. I know some of my colleagues are in the same position — where they have whole wards of COVID.

This article examines hospital admissions with COVID-19 by age group.

Hospital admissions by age group

BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Adrian Chiles interviewed a matron at a London hospital.

In response to this media report, Prof Russell Viner (President of RCPCH) said:

Children’s wards are usually busy in winter. As of now we are not seeing significant pressure from COVID-19 in paediatrics across the UK. As cases in the community rise there will be a small increase in the number of children we see with COVID-19, but the overwhelming majority of children and young people have no symptoms or very mild illness only. The new variant appears to affect all ages and, as yet, we are not seeing any greater severity amongst children and young people. …

Hospital death figures provide a partial view of the pandemic.

On Boxing Day, columnist Paul Embery wrote on social media:

The number of Covid-related deaths in England involving individuals under the age of 60 and free from a pre-existing condition is 377. This is for the entire period of the pandemic.

Julia Hartley-Brewer, a talkRADIO presenter, added:

Just 377 healthy people under 60 have died of Covid. That’s not a typo. There are no zeros missing. 377. Yes, that’s sad but we have locked down an entire country for a virus that mostly kills the very old & the very sick. …

How did analysts calculate the different numbers?

The Royal Statistical Society runs the Statistics of the Year competition. This is to highlight key figures from the past year.

This article provides information about quality and methods for the six chosen numbers. The original version of this article appears on the Royal Statistical Society’s website.

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International Statistic of the Year

Winner: 332 days

The length of time between scientists publishing the genetic sequence of COVID-19 (11 January 2020) and an effective vaccine being administered (8 December 2020).

Various sources give different dates for when scientists published the genetic sequence. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says the 10th January 2020. This refers to the deposit on the GenBank database, with accession number MN908947. The World Health Organisation website states the 11th January 2020. This discrepancy may be due to time zones. …

What can we tell from international comparisons? What is the ‘real’ death toll?

To help the Royal Statistical Society, I wrote answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19.

Given my frequent posts on this topic, the answers were similar to words already written. The main constraint was a limit of 400 words.

What can we tell from international comparisons?

International comparisons are challenging.

There is no standard definition of a ‘COVID-19 death’. Countries count these figures in different ways.

Before mid-August, there were different definitions in the United Kingdom:

  • England (Public Health England): confirmed deaths in all settings. The person has a positive test result for SARS-CoV-2.
  • Wales (Public Health Wales): deaths in Welsh hospitals and care homes. The deceased person must have tested positive for the virus. A clinician must suspect the COVID-19 disease was a causative factor in the death. …

What about my personalised risk? How many would die anyway?

To help the Royal Statistical Society, I wrote answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19.

The main constraint was a limit of 400 words. These are the original version of the articles. The posts were later improved by other authors.

How can I find my personalised risk?

In this pandemic, there are several risks to consider, including:

  • The risk of getting a SARS-CoV-2 infection;
  • The risk of infecting others;
  • The risk of dying due to COVID-19.

There are many factors which could affect your personal risk of infection and fatality. Analysis by the Office for National Statistics suggests age and sex matter for mortality due to COVID-19. Older people are more likely to die with the disease. In each age group, estimated mortality rates are higher for men than women. …


Anthony B. Masters

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

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