Excess winter deaths rose nearly 20% in 2019-20, new figures show

Excess winter deaths rose by nearly 20% in 2019-20 compared with the previous winter, new figures show.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said there were an estimated 28,300 excess winter deaths in England and Wales in the winter of 2019-20.

This was 19.6% higher than the 23,670 in the winter of 2018-19 but still lower than the 49,410 recorded in the winter of 2017-18.

Excess winter deaths compares the number of deaths during the months of December to March with the average number of deaths in the preceding August to November and the following April to July.

For the winter of 2019-20, the ONS said it had excluded deaths where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate from the main figures in order to improve the “comparability of this winter’s measure with previous years”.

When Covid-19 deaths were included there were an estimated 8,700 excess winter deaths during the 2019-20 season – the lowest number recorded since the data time series began in 1950-51.

However, the ONS said: “The low estimate is explained by the comparison with the large number of Covid-19 deaths that occurred mainly in the non-winter months April to July, rather than an exceptionally low number of winter deaths.”

The new data, published on Friday, also showed that respiratory diseases continued to be the leading cause of excess winter deaths that occurred in 2019-20.

Respiratory diseases accounted for 39.6% of all excess winter deaths in England and 40.0% in Wales, the ONS added.

In England there were an estimated 26,500 excess winter deaths in 2019-20, with 50.2% among males and 49.4% among females, the ONS said.

In Wales there were an estimated 2,000 excess winter deaths in 2019-20, which was split evenly between males and females.

Wales had the highest percentage of extra deaths in the winter of 2019-20 at 19.2%, followed by the North West at 19.0% and London at 18.6%.

The excess deaths mortality index for these areas was “statistically significantly” higher than the England average of 16.8%, the ONS said.

In comparison, Yorkshire and the Humber at 15.7%, the East of England at 15.6%, the South West at 15.2% and the North East at 13.8% were statistically significantly lower, it added.

The excess winter mortality index is calculated so that comparisons can be made between sexes, age groups and regions, and shows the percentage of extra deaths that occurred between December and March.