National Records of Scotland

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Excess deaths in February at lowest level for a year

Excess deaths in February at lowest level for a year

Thursday, 16 Mar 2023
demography news release image

The number of deaths in February was similar to average levels, representing the lowest level of excess deaths for a year, according to new statistics from National Records of Scotland. 

There were 4,925 deaths in February 2023, a fall of 27% from the month before. The number of deaths  were 1% below the five year average, the first time deaths have been below average since February 2022. 

The leading causes of death in February were dementia and Alzheimer’s for females (17% of all deaths) and ischaemic heart disease for males (15%). Death rates in the most deprived areas were 1.7 times those in the least deprived areas. 

Vital Events statistician, Julie Ramsay, said: 

“In this report we are introducing a new measure; excess deaths based on age standardised mortality rates. February’s ASMR was 6% below the five year average. This is the best measure to use to track excess deaths as it is more accurate as it takes into account the growing and ageing population.” 

Respiratory deaths (such as influenza and pneumonia or chronic lower respiratory diseases) are close to average levels again, after the first major increase since the COVID-19 pandemic began. There were 537 deaths in this category in February, 6% below the five year average. In January such deaths were 36% above the average. Covid-19 is deaths are not included in this category. 

Julie Ramsay said: 

“The usual winter peak in deaths from respiratory causes was absent in 2020 and 2021. This winter the peak was back with the highest level of deaths from respiratory illnesses since early 2018.”

Also released today were the weekly figures for deaths including those involving COVID-19. There were 1,284 deaths registered last week (6th to 12th March 2023), which is 55 or 4% above average. There were 62 deaths where COVID-19 was mentioned, which is 22 more than last week.


Excess deaths is a term used to describe the difference between the number of deaths in the current year and the ‘expected’ number. This ‘expected number’ is calculated by taking the average number of deaths over the last 5 years. 

The standard approach is to compare with the average of the 5 years prior to the current year. Due to the impact of Covid-19 on mortality levels in 2020 this standard approach would not give an accurate reflection. Consequently it has been agreed by NRS in Scotland, ONS in England and Wales, and NISRA in Northern Ireland to leave out 2020 from the five year average figures. For 2023, the five year average will use the data from 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022

The report and associated data are available on our website at Monthly mortality analysis, Scotland | National Records of Scotland (

Media enquiries should be directed to:

Susie Rose 
NRS Communications
Tel: 07500 463 452
Email: [email protected]

Further information about the statistics is available from:

NRS Customer Services
Email: [email protected]