While focus remains firmly fixed on Covid-19, a second health crisis is quietly emerging in Britain. Since the beginning of July, there have been thousands of excess deaths that were not caused by coronavirus.
According to health experts, this is highly unusual for the summer. Although excess deaths are expected during the winter months, when cold weather and seasonal infections combine to place pressure on the NHS, summer generally sees a lull.
Data from Public Health England (PHE) shows that during that period there were 2,103 extra death registrations with ischemic heart disease, 1,552 with heart failure, as well as an extra 760 deaths with cerebrovascular diseases such as stroke and aneurysm and 3,915 with other circulatory diseases.
Acute and chronic respiratory infections were also up with 3,416 more mentions on death certificates than expected since the start of July, while there have been 1,234 extra urinary system disease deaths, 324 with cirrhosis and liver disease and 1,905 with diabetes.
Alarmingly, many of these conditions saw the biggest drops in diagnosis in 2020, as the NHS struggled to cope with the pandemic.
Author(s): Sarah Knapton
Publication Date: 24 Sept 2021
Publication Site: Yahoo News
Somewhere in PHE’s data pipeline, someone had used the wrong Excel file format, XLS rather than the more recent XLSX. And XLS spreadsheets simply don’t have that many rows: 2 to the power of 16, about 64,000. This meant that during some automated process, cases had vanished off the bottom of the spreadsheet, and nobody had noticed.
The idea of simply running out of space to put the numbers was darkly amusing. A few weeks after the data-loss scandal, I found myself able to ask Bill Gates himself about what had happened. Gates no longer runs Microsoft, and I was interviewing him about vaccines for a BBC program called How to Vaccinate The World. But the opportunity to have a bit of fun quizzing him about XLS and XLSX was too good to pass up.
I expressed the question in the nerdiest way possible, and Gates’s response was so strait-laced I had to smile: “I guess… they overran the 64,000 limit, which is not there in the new format, so…” Well, indeed. Gates then added, “It’s good to have people double-check things, and I’m sorry that happened.”
Exactly how the outdated XLS format came to be used is unclear. PHE sent me an explanation, but it was rather vague. I didn’t understand it, so I showed it to some members of Eusprig, the European Spreadsheet Risks Group. They spend their lives analyzing what happens when spreadsheets go rogue. They’re my kind of people. But they didn’t understand what PHE had told me, either. It was all a little light on detail.
Author(s): Tim Harford
Publication Date: 29 June 2021
Publication Site: Financial Post
The Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are more than 80% effective at preventing hospitalisations from COVID-19 in those over 80 after one dose of either shot, Public Health England (PHE) said on Monday, citing a pre-print study.
Author(s): Alistair Smout
Publication Date: 2 March 2021
Publication Site: Reuters