Methods for modelling excess mortality across England during the COVID-19 pandemic

Sharmani Barnard*, Chiara Chiavenna, Sebastian Fox, Andre Charlett, Zachary Waller, Nick Andrews, Peter Goldblatt, Paul Burton, Daniela De Angelis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Excess mortality is an important measure of the scale of the coronavirus-2019 pandemic. It includes both deaths caused directly by the pandemic, and deaths caused by the unintended consequences of containment such as delays to accessing care or postponements of healthcare provision in the population. In 2020 and 2021, in England, multiple groups have produced measures of excess mortality during the pandemic. This paper describes the data and methods used in five different approaches to estimating excess mortality and compares their estimates. The fundamental principles of estimating excess mortality are described, as well as the key commonalities and differences between five approaches. Two of these are based on the date of registration: a quasi-Poisson model with offset and a 5-year average; and three are based on date of occurrence: a Poisson model without offset, the European monitoring of excess mortality model and a synthetic controls model. Comparisons between estimates of excess mortality are made for the period March 2020 through March 2021 and for the two waves of the pandemic that occur within that time-period. Model estimates are strikingly similar during the first wave of the pandemic though larger differences are observed during the second wave. Models that adjusted for reduced circulation of winter infection produced higher estimates of excess compared with those that did not. Models that do not adjust for reduced circulation of winter infection captured the effect of reduced winter illness as a result of mobility restrictions during the period. None of the estimates captured mortality displacement and therefore may underestimate excess at the current time, though the extent to which this has occurred is not yet identified. Models use different approaches to address variation in data availability and stakeholder requirements of the measure. Variation between estimates reflects differences in the date of interest, population denominators and parameters in the model relating to seasonality and trend.

Original languageEnglish
JournalStatistical Methods in Medical Research
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
SB acknowledges funding received by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course (Project ID CE200100025).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.


  • all cause mortality
  • coronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • excess deaths


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