England had the highest level of excess mortality among countries in Europe by mid-2020
England had the highest levels of excess mortality in Europe across the first half of 2020, according to new analysis by the Office for National Statistics.
The country experienced the longest continuous period of excess deaths as well as the highest levels, a comparison of 23 European countries found.
It is the first time the ONS has compared mortality rates in different countries to measure the impact of Covid-19.
By the week ending Friday, May 29, England had a relative cumulative age-standardised mortality rate of 7.55% – meaning it was 7.55% higher than the average mortality rate between 2015 and 2019.
Spain ranked second at 6.65%, followed by Scotland (5.11%), Belgium (3.89%) and Wales (2.78%).
England still had the highest cumulative excess deaths by the week ending Friday, June 12. At this point there was only data available on 17 other countries to compare it with.
From Friday, February 14 until that date, England experienced the second highest peak of excess deaths, after Spain, out of 21 countries with data available.
Edward Morgan, from the ONS’s health analysis and life events division, said the first half of 2020 saw “extraordinary increases” in mortality rates across Western Europe, when compared with the average over the past five years.
He continued: “While none of the four UK nations had a peak mortality level as high as Spain or the worst-hit local areas of Spain and Italy, excess mortality was geographically widespread throughout the UK during the pandemic, whereas it was more geographically localised in most countries of Western Europe.
“Combined with the relatively slow downward ‘tail’ of the pandemic in the UK, this meant that, by the end of May, England had seen the highest overall relative excess mortality out of all the European countries compared.”
Using the measure of all-cause mortality to calculate the impact of the pandemic means results are not affected by the different ways countries record Covid-19 deaths.
It also considers the indirect impacts of the pandemic, such as reduced or delayed access to care.
The ONS used weekly death registration data published by Eurostat and ONS data for England and Wales, National Records Scotland (NRS) data for Scotland, and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) data for Northern Ireland.
It found little evidence of abnormal mortality rates in Eastern Europe.
Every local authority area in the UK experienced excess mortality between the weeks ending Friday, April 3 and Friday, May 8, while other countries in Western Europe experienced more localised excess deaths.
While Spain recorded the highest peak of excess mortality, England had higher levels of cumulative excess mortality thanks to longer periods of time with above average mortality rates.
Looking at major cities, the highest peak excess mortality was in Madrid, which saw levels in the week ending Friday March 27 that were more than five times higher (or 432.7% higher) than the average expected mortality rate in 2015 to 2019.
In the UK, Birmingham was the city with the highest peak excess mortality (249.7% in the week ending Friday, April 17), followed by London (226.7% for the same time period) and Manchester (198.4%).