THE number of 'extra' deaths from any cause since the Covid outbreak began is a fifth lower in Scotland than in England and Wales.

The discrepancy in excess death rates was highlighted by Nicola Sturgeon as she was asked during the daily briefing “why the percentage of deaths in care homes is so much higher” in Scotland than south of the Border.

The latest figures for the week ending May 3 in Scotland shows that there were a total of 627 deaths in care homes, of which 310 (49 per cent) were linked to Covid-19.

In England and Wales, according to Office for National Statistics data published today and covering the seven days to May 1, 38% of the 6409 deaths in care homes were attributed to coronavirus.

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In Scotland, more people are dying from Covid in care homes than in any other setting, while in England and Wales the majority of deaths are still occurring in hospitals.

The First Minister stressed that the actual number of people dying in care homes, from Covid or from any cause, had begun to fall, with the latest statistics from the National Records of Scotland due out tomorrow.

Ms Sturgeon also noted that the overall rise in mortality in recent weeks had been “slightly lower in Scotland than it has been in the rest of the UK”.

It came after ONS data revealed that England and Wales has been recording more than 9000 extra deaths a week since the end of March.

Between March 28 and May 1, a total of 97,204 deaths from all causes have been registered in England and Wales.

That compares against an average of 51,721 the same period over the previous five years, meaning the death rate is 88% higher than normal.

In Scotland, for roughly the same period from March 30 to May 3, a total of 9124 deaths have been registered - 68% more than the normal level of 5431 for the previous five years.

While a large share of these so-called ‘excess’ deaths are linked to Covid, not all are. There have also been more deaths than normal from cancers, heart disease, strokes, dementia, respiratory diseases, and other causes.

Since the Covid outbreak took off, the number of people dying in care homes in Scotland - from any cause - has more than doubled.

In the five weeks to May 3, care home deaths averaged 607 a week, compared to 267 a week between February 24 and March 29.

Ms Sturgeon added: “It’s speculating, but perhaps it is that more of the excess mortality is being attributed to care homes in Scotland than it is elsewhere in the UK.

“But when we see the overall number of deaths, and the excess part of it, that bar has actually been lower in Scotland than it has in England.”

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However, there is very little difference when care home deaths are compared without taking account of Covid.

In Scotland, a total of 1,673 deaths were registered in the week ending May 3, of which 627 (37.5%) occurred in care homes.

In England and Wales, care home deaths were 35.7% of the total for the week ending May 1: 6,409 out of 17,953.

It came as Scotland’s interim chief medical officer, Dr Gregor Smith, said there had been a rise in people seeking help for possible cancers.

Dr Smith had previously raised concerns in April after the number of urgent referrals with a suspicion of cancer plunged to 744 - well below the weekly average of 2,700.

This had climbed back to more than 1500 in the week ending May 3, said Dr Smith, but added that GPs remain worried that “people are presenting at a later course in their symptoms”.

It has been suggested that people were reluctant to bother the NHS during the pandemic, or feared catching the virus if they had to go to hospital.

Dr Smith said: "If you have symptoms like coughing blood or passing blood when you go to the toilet, if you've had a change in your bowel habits or unexplained weight loss, or if you've found a new lump, please don't ignore them. 

"Contact your GP surgery and tell them you have an urgent symptom you need to talk to your doctor about. 

"It's not being unreasonable, it's not putting inappropriate pressure on the service."