Analysis shows dramatic increase in Covid-related deaths at home in Scotland

Written by Jan Savinc 19 April 2021

The pandemic has placed unprecedented demand on health services, with the increase of home deaths having implications on formal and informal care. These findings follow on from research carried out by Iain Atherton in June 2020 on increasing deaths at home and their implications for carers, and David Henderson's analysis in April 2020 on changing patterns in location of death during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The data used in this analysis is the weekly updated deaths involving coronavirus (Covid-19) in Scotland by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) as well as historic weekly deaths for the 2015-2019 period.

What the data analysis shows

As with previous findings, deaths where Covid-19 was involved are represented by the gap between the blue and red lines, and apart from the peaks of the pandemic in March 2020 and January 2021, there were very few Covid-19 deaths at home.

The first group analysed is aged 15-44 years, due to very few 'deaths at home' involving younger children aged 15 years and younger.

In the 15-44 year age group, there was a 22% increase in home deaths between the start of 2020 and the week commencing 5 April 2021, compared to the average number of deaths in the same period of time in 2015-2019.

In ages 45 years and above, there was an initial peak of deaths at home starting in March 2020, followed by a gradual decline over time with quite a lot of weekly variation, but with a total number of deaths of 5,840 it remained well above historic levels.

Aged 65-74 years showed a large increase in non-Covid deaths from March 2020 to July, and again from October 2020 to the end of December. There was a 31.6% increase in home deaths between the start of 2020 and the week commenting 5 April 2021, compared to the average number of deaths in the same period of time in 2015-2019.

In the 75-84 years and 85+ year groups, home deaths were dramatically high from March to May 2020, with 7,288 deaths in aged 75-84 years and an increase of 49.7% in the age 85+ year group. Both show a steady decline of current deaths at home from June 2020, with later figures being similar to the historic mean.

The increase in home deaths compared to the historic average in 2015-2019 shows that all age groups above age 15 years increased, with the older age groups seeing a higher relative increase, going from approximately 30% in the 45-64 year group up to nearly 50% in the 85+ year group.

What next?

The shift to deaths at home remains above historical rates. The decline that has occurred since the start of 2021 is likely to be:

  • A mix of seasonal variation (historically the number of deaths falls after January); and
  • The drop in Covid infections and associated pressure on hospital beds.

What happens from here remains to be seen and will be closely linked to both policy and the ongoing pandemic. We will continue to monitor the data as they are updated.

This was originally published on the SCADR website.

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