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Office for National Statistics win top Royal Statistical Society award

The Office for National Statistics' (ONS) analysis showing that people from certain ethnicities had a higher risk of dying from COVID-19 has been recognised by the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) with the renowned Campion Award.

Throughout the pandemic, the ONS has been at the forefront of work to understand more about the impact of COVID-19.  Using new data and methods, new analysis was created faster than ever before to meet the urgent need for more information on who was most at risk from the disease.

Ethnicity isn't currently recorded on death certificates so the team had to find new ways of linking to Census 2011 data to understand what the impact was on different communities.

As a result of this work the ONS was able to publish detailed analysis showing for the first time, that people in the UK from a Black and South Asian ethnic background had an increased risk of death involving COVID-19 compared with those from a White ethnic background. 

This has been referenced widely as part of ongoing reporting of the pandemic.

Statistician, Vahé Nafilyan, led this work for the ONS and accepted the award on behalf of the team.

Vahé yesterday said:

"It is great to see our work recognised by the Royal Statistical Society. This work was a real team-effort and involved colleagues from across the Office. I am proud of how we have used the data that we produce at ONS, such as the Census, to inform the policy response to the pandemic."

Also highly commended by the award committee was other work by ONS researchers to compare excess mortality rates between European countries and regions during the COVID-19 pandemic led by Annie Campbell and her team.

Professor Sir Ian Diamond, UK National Statistician, said: "Our mortality statistics have been essential in informing key decisions and providing an evidence base. The work of both our teams has gone above and beyond and has been essential to our understanding of the COVID-19 virus. We are grateful for all of their hard work. With the rollout of vaccines, the teams will continue to push the boundaries, linking and analysing data to better understand the differential risks of COVID-19."

The RSS Campion Award recognises innovative and impactful statistics that have been communicated openly in a way which helps the public or government to understand an issue.

Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, yesterday said:

"The team behind this year's winner produced a profound piece of analysis that had huge effects right across Government and the health service. I enthusiastically congratulate them on this piece of work. It was vitally important to the response to the pandemic. It won out in a very wide range of outstanding projects, showing just how important statisticians have been during the pandemic.

"The analysis and use of statistics is more prominent in public life than it has ever been, and our statisticians have risen to the challenge despite having to work largely from home, and adapt our surveys to keep people safe and results reliable. Well done to all the nominees for their hard work."

Dev Virdee, Chair of the Campion Award committee, added:

"Given the outstanding work all government statisticians have been doing over the last year or so, I knew this would be a particularly hard year to judge. All entries were of extremely high quality and really showcased the hard work that has been done by statisticians across the Government Statistical Service, both in response to the pandemic and in ensuring the core statistical releases continue to be produced to a high quality. Our winning and highly commended teams are to be congratulated for the impact they have had on policy-making and in meeting user needs."

Notes to Editors:

The Royal Statistical Society (RSS), founded in 1834, is one of the world’s most distinguished and renowned statistical societies. It is a learned society for statistics, a professional body for statisticians and a charity which promotes statistics, data and evidence for the public good. Today the RSS has around 10,000 members around the world.

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