Britain’s actual coronavirus death toll could be half of the 50,000 already recorded, according to one expert.
Professor Karol Sikora, a former World Health Organization (WHO) cancer adviser, said doctors may put the virus on death certificates if there was ‘any hint’ it could have been the cause, without hard proof.
And many of the victims who died at the height of the pandemic could have died by the summer anyway because they were in old age, he said.
Therefore, he suggested the statistics should be inspected in closer detail to see if the coronavirus has truly caused as many deaths as believed.
Department of Health statistics show 41,128 Britons have died after testing positive for the virus since the outbreak began.
But other data — compiled by statistical bodies of each of the home nations — show at least 51,000 people have died from confirmed or suspected Covid-19.
This count, which is 24 per cent higher than Number 10’s, takes into account anyone who has died with the disease mentioned on their death certificate.
Professor Sikora’s claim came has come under fire online, with Australian epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz saying on Twitter: ‘What an atrocious take. If anything the evidence runs in the opposite direction.’
Professor Karol Sikora, a former World Health Organization cancer adviser, said doctors would be putting the virus on death certificates when there was ‘any hint’ it could have been the cause, without hard proof
Data compiled by statistical bodies of each of the home nations show at least 51,000 people have died from confirmed or suspected Covid-19. Pictured: Deaths in England and Wales
Department of Health statistics show 41,128 Britons have died after testing positive for the virus since the outbreak began
Professor Sikora, who has gained a huge Twitter following during the crisis, claimed doctors are sometimes too keen to mention the disease on death certificates.
He told The Telegraph the disease would sometimes be named when there was ‘any hint’ it could have been the cause of death, despite having firm proof.
For example in care homes, which have been ravaged by the disease, residents have largely gone untested for the coronavirus.
If they died, a doctor may say the cause was Covid-19 because their death occurred at the same time the care home had recorded an outbreak.
During the height of the pandemic when doctors were very busy, they were allowed to verify deaths over the phone if they needed to.
In comparison, Germany — which has recorded fewer than 10,000 deaths — is much stricter about classifying fatalities as being down to Covid-19.
German medics can only say a death is down to Covid-19 if the clinical team involved in the end-of-life care certify that’s what they believe was to blame.
Professor Sikora described the UK’s system of recording deaths as ‘woeful’ because it still uses pieces of paper which are passed around a lot of people.
HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE REALLY DIED?
Department of Health: 40,883
Department of Health bosses yesterday revealed the death toll had jumped to 40,883 across all settings, including care homes.
The daily data does not represent how many Covid-19 patients died within the last 24 hours — it is only how many fatalities have been reported and registered with the authorities.
It also only takes into account patients who tested positive for the virus, as opposed to deaths suspected to be down to the coronavirus.
Individual health bodies: 32,097
The Department of Health has a different time cut-off for reporting deaths, meaning daily updates from Scotland as well as Northern Ireland are always out of sync. Wales is not affected, however.
NHS England today revealed it has registered 27,707 lab-confirmed deaths across the country. But the figure only applies to hospitals — meaning fatalities in care homes are excluded from this count.
Scotland has recorded 2,434 coronavirus deaths among patients who have tested positive for the virus, followed by 1,419 in Wales and 537 in Northern Ireland. These tolls include fatalities in all settings.
National statistical bodies: 51,175
Data compiled by the statistical bodies of each of the home nations show 51,175 people died of either confirmed or suspected Covid-19 across the UK by the end of May.
The real number of victims will be even higher because the tally only takes into account deaths that occurred up until June 7 in Scotland and May 29 in the rest of Britain, meaning it is up to 10 days out of date.
The Office for National Statistics yesterday confirmed that 46,421 people in England and Wales died with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 by May 29.
The number of coronavirus deaths was 754 by the same day in Northern Ireland, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).
National Records Scotland — which collects statistics north of the border — said 4,000 people had died across the country by June 7.
Their tallies are always 10 days behind the Department of Health (DH) because they wait until as many fatalities as possible for each date have been counted, to avoid having to revise their statistics.
Excess deaths: 63,708
The total number of excess deaths has almost reached 64,000.
Excess deaths are considered to be an accurate measure of the number of people killed by the pandemic because they include a broader spectrum of victims.
As well as including people who may have died with Covid-19 without ever being tested, the data also shows how many more people died because their medical treatment was postponed, for example, or who didn’t or couldn’t get to hospital when they were seriously ill.
Data from England and Wales shows there has been an extra 57,961 deaths since the outbreak took hold, as well as 4,808 in Scotland and 939 in Northern Ireland.
He said: ‘The data collection in Britain is hampered compared to other European countries. It’s not really computerised. It’s bits of paper changing hands… It’s never had an integrated system.’
Professor Sikora said the problem of recording deaths is affecting the exit from lockdown strategy, which takes into account how many people are dying.
He said if the deaths are mainly made up of people who were going to die this year anyway — because they were old — the statistics would need to be re-assessed.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) data shows 61 per cent of people who died of suspected or confirmed Covid-19 in England and Wales since the outbreak began were over the age of 80.
Official figures suggest the average life expectancy for children born between 2016 and 2018 in Britain is 81, and is lower for people who were born in the early to mid 1900s.
Professor Sikora told The Telegraph’s Planet Normal podcast that the real death toll from coronavirus would be between 20 and 30,000, if it took into account both factors.
He added: ‘It could end up that more people have died because of lack of medical care directly caused by the unavailability of it.
‘If we look at the numbers, how many people have really died from Covid that would not be dead at the end of the year? The numbers vary enormously.
‘The current ONS data suggests 60,000 people have died from Covid. I’m sure that’s not really the case, it’s because of the counting we discussed earlier.’
Data compiled by the statistical bodies of each of the home nations show there have been 60,000 ‘excess deaths’ across the UK, meaning all of those people died on top of the number that would be expected in a normal year.
And 51,086 deaths have been registered as either confirmed or suspected Covid-19 up until the end of May.
Other experts, including Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, University of Oxford, fear the number of Covid-19 deaths are being under reported.
Speaking at an science media conference on Tuesday, when the latest ONS figures were released, he said: ‘I think there is a lot of speculation around whether people have been under recording Covid on the death certificate.
‘I think that is easy or can be triangulated and validated. For example if I was a GP and went into a care home, if the care home had an outbreak, I’d be expecting to record Covid on the death certificate.
‘I think there are ways of looking at some of the death certificates of the non Covid to start to understand whether it’s under recording, or excess deaths from other reasons.’
The outbreak is still causing some 2-300 deaths every day, according to Government collated figures, showing a very slow decline over the past few weeks.
Yesterday Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, said half of Britain’s could have been avoided had the lockdown been in place one week earlier.
Boris Johnson imposed the lockdown on March 23 on the back of Professor Ferguson’s grim modelling which predicted 500,000 people could die if the virus was left unchecked.
Professor Ferguson made the stark admission at a virtual House of Commons Science and Technology Committee briefing.
The epidemiologist told MPs: ‘The epidemic was doubling every three to four days before lockdown interventions were introduced.
‘So had we introduced lockdown measures a week earlier, we would have then reduced the final death toll by at least a half.
‘So whilst I think the measures … were warranted … certainly had we introduced them earlier, we would have seen many fewer deaths.’