Jason Leitch did not mislead with Covid-19 death figures, says statistics authority

National Clinical Director Jason Leitch did not mislead the public with his use of statistics on Covid-19 deaths in a recent media briefing, the Office for Statistics Regulation has said.

In response to a question from Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron over Professor Leitch’s choice between two methods of measuring Covid-19 deaths in Scotland, Sir David Norgrove, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, said Professor Leitch had made it “appropriately clear” in his remarks which metric he was using.

Professor Leitch told journalists at the Covid-19 media briefing on February 26 that there had been no Covid-19 deaths between July 17 and August 18 of 2020.

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He had been asked to defend the Scottish Government’s view that Scotland came close to eliminating the virus in the summer after the claim was disputed by Professor Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Edinburgh University.

National Clinical Director Jason Leitch

The National Clinical Director faced criticism from the Scottish Conservatives over his use of figures, as Covid-19 deaths in Scotland are measured in two ways.

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While there had been no deaths during that period of anyone who had tested positive for Covid-19 in the previous 28 days, there had been 24 deaths where the virus was mentioned on the death certificate.

“While this particular statistic may be technically true, I am concerned that it could be misleading, as it does not include deaths where a doctor determined that Covid-19 was a factor in the death,” wrote Mr Cameron in a letter to the UK Statistics Authority.

Sir David Norgrove concluded that Professor Leitch had acted appropriately, but added: “There are several different measures [of Covid-19 deaths] and each have their uses.

“However the most reliable source for understanding where Covid-19 was the cause of death is [...] data drawn from the death registrations.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic 5,572 people have died within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test.

As of March 21 2021, some 9,897 people had died with Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate.

Professor Leitch said the disagreement with Professor Woolhouse over virus elimination during the summer was “healthy”.

“We rarely play those scientific debates out live at parliamentary committees and live on TV, but that’s the nature of the pandemic,” he said.

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