Alarm sounded over rise in non-coronavirus deaths in Scotland | Coronavirus outbreak

New figures reveal a significant rise in deaths unrelated to Covid-19 in Scotland, prompting warnings of the “huge risks” if people do not seek medical treatment because they believe that the health service is already overstretched.

Data from the National Records of Scotland shows that in the last full week, from 30 March to 5 April, the number of registered deaths from all causes across Scotland was 60% higher than the five-year average – at 1,741 deaths compared with the average of 1,098. Combining that week with the previous one, from 23 March to 5 April, the overall number of deaths registered was 27% above the five-year average.

Speaking at the Scottish government’s daily media briefing, the interim chief medical officer, Dr Gregor Smith, said clinicians across the country were reporting to him that NHS Scotland was “eerily quiet” in terms of people presenting with concerns other than coronavirus.

Smith said: “People are perhaps making a choice not to present just now… but there are huge risks for people to hold on to symptoms like chest pains or bleeding.”

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, said that she was “aware and concerned” about the overall increase in deaths. “Some of that is down to the deaths from Covid-19 that we are reporting today, some of it is down to the fact that in the previous week some registration offices were closed because they were adapting to this new system, so some of the deaths that were reported in that week were actually deaths from the previous week. But we don’t think all of that increase is down to those two factors.”

Asked whether the significant increase in overall deaths suggested that people were not seeking medical care because of worries about infection or hospital capacity, Sturgeon said there was “not enough evidence to say that people are dying for those reasons”.

But she added that the consistent Scottish government message that people should continue to use the NHS for other symptoms and conditions as they normally would “reflects the fact that we have a concern that people might be less likely to come forward because they know that the health service is under pressure”.

A clinical support technician working at the coronavirus testing laboratory at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

The figures also reveal coronavirus-related deaths in Scotland have been 60% higher than first reported. The NRS data indicates as of 5 April there had been 354 deaths since the pandemic began. However, on that date only 220 were reported by Health Protection Scotland, a gap of 134 deaths.

As of 5 April, there have been 354 deaths registered in Scotland where Covid-19 was mentioned in the death certificate. This compares with the figures from the Scottish government’s daily updates, provided by Health Protection Scotland, which put the accumulated figure at 366 on Wednesday.

The NRS figures, which count all cases where Covid-19 is mentioned on a death certificate, including as a “suspected” or “probable” cause, offer a more detailed picture of the impact of the virus in Scotland.

They will be published weekly and complement the daily total from HPS, which counts deaths that have occurred within the last 24 hours of those who died with a positive test for the virus.

Wednesday’s data shows that the vast majority of deaths were among people aged 65 years and older, with 306 of 354 in that age group.

Men were more heavily represented in the figures, with 197 (55.6%) of the deaths male, and 157 (44.4%) female.

Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board had recorded the highest number of Covid-19 deaths up to 5 April, with 122 deaths registered. To date, no Covid-19 related deaths have been registered in Orkney and Western Isles.

Comparable data for England and Wales from the Office for National Statistics shows a similar trend.

The latest figures indicate the number of Covid-19 related deaths registered was 70% higher than the official figure reported by the Department of Health and Social Care on 27 March.

On that date a total of 964 deaths were reported in England and Wales by the department; but the number of deaths that occurred to 27 March and were registered by 1 April was 1,639.

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