Coronavirus in Scotland: What do new figures tell us about coronavirus?

By Marc Ellison
BBC Scotland data journalist

  • Published
coronavirus signImage source, Getty Images

The door into further understanding coronavirus-related deaths in Scotland has been opened - but just a crack.

The weekly data released by National Records of Scotland (NRS) is meant to augment the daily death totals announced by the Scottish government.

The government's daily figures only counts those who die within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 - typically people who die in hospital.

However, the NRS figures count these fatalities plus any others where a doctor noted on the death certificate that a suspected coronavirus infection played a part.

This data therefore covers all settings including not only hospitals, but also community deaths in care homes for example.

While this overlapping information sounds like a good thing, it doesn't really currently help us get a better handle on what proportion of deaths are outwith hospitals, or what factor underlying health conditions have played.

Today's NRS data uses date of registration rather than date of death making it impossible to use in conjunction with the daily government data.

It's important to note that a person can legally take eight days to register a death in Scotland. This means a knock-on delay in when deaths are counted, thus making it harder to work out if the number of fatalities has peaked.

However, the new NRS data does for the first time give us a breakdown by age and gender.

These figures allow us to see that the elderly are the main victims of coronavirus - specifically those over 75. They also show that 56% of fatalities are male.

These headline stats by themselves aren't a great surprise - anecdotal reports hae suggested as much.

What the stats do show though is what proportion of all weekly deaths have been attributed to coronavirus.

We see that COVID-19 deaths have accounted for 1%, 6%, and 16% of all deaths over the last three weeks in Scotland.

Another interesting point is the total number of deaths reported in this release.

Scotland's coronavirus deaths. Comparing HPS and NRS figures.  Figures reported up to 5 April.

The NRS data records 354 deaths compared to the 220 reported by the Scottish government over the same period.

The assumption is that this difference is due to the inclusion of community deaths - but without more definitive location data we are unable to be sure. Essentially, what we need is a greater granularity of location data so we can better understand the spread and trends of coronavirus fatalities across Scotland.

As a data journalist, I would also like to see data on the underlying conditions which can be listed on a person's death certificate. That would allow is to better understand potential links between pre-existing conditions - such as hypertension or diabetes - on coronavirus victims.

It would also be helpful to have data on hospital and admissions to intensive care, as well the location and shifting numbers of critical care beds and ventilators over time.

None of this is meant as a criticism. Strained government bodies are doing their best to track the moving target that is Covid-19, and the National Records of Scotland seems keen to refine their weekly reports moving forward.