August’s Age-Standardised Mortality Rate Was 2.5% Higher Than the Five-Year Average

The ONS announced on Tuesday that there were 40,460 deaths registered in England in August, which is approximately the same number as in July, and 9.9% more than the five-year average.

As you can see on this chart, weekly deaths remained above the five-year average for most of the month. Then in week 35, the August bank holiday artificially lowered death registrations:

Deaths being roughly 10% higher than the five-year average sounds like quite a lot. And in fact, the number of deaths registered in August of 2020 was 5.6% less than the five-year average.

Of course, infections were at a local minimum last August, and some of the deaths that would have occurred then had been brought forward by the pandemic. By contrast, August of 2021 coincided with the tail end of the Delta wave, and infections remained elevated throughout the month.

Consistent with this interpretation, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in August (a month when mortality is usually low) and deaths from the other nine leading causes were all below their five-year averages.

But as I always note in these updates, age-adjusted measures provide a much better guide to changes in mortality than the absolute number of deaths. In August, the age-standardised mortality rate was about the same as in July, and was only 2.5% higher than the five-year average.

This chart from the ONS shows the age-standardised mortality rate for the first eight months of the year, each year, going back to 2001:

As in the preceding two months, cumulative mortality to date was lower than the corresponding figures for both 2015 and 2018. In other words, the first eight months of 2018 – a year with no pandemic – were more deadly than the first eight months of 2021.

Overall then, 2021 is still a fairly normal year for mortality in England. As a matter of fact, it’s the sixth least deadly year on record! This could change, however, if the winter brings a particularly large wave of COVID-19 or seasonal flu.

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