Cause-of-death statistics

Information on causes of death has been published in New Zealand since 1872 for Europeans and 1920 for Māori.

Background

The Ministry of Health has produced and published cause-of-death statistics since 1948 when it took over the responsibility previously held by Statistics New Zealand.

What the statistics measure

These statistics measure the health status of the population. Cause-of-death statistics are used in forming health policy, monitoring the effectiveness of screening programmes, immunisations and other health programmes, and for comparing New Zealand’s cause of death statistics with those from other countries.

How they’re used

These statistics are recognised as an important objective measure of the health status of the population, forming health policy, monitoring the effectiveness of cancer screening, immunizations and other health programmes and for comparing New Zealand cause of death statistics with those from other countries.

For families of the deceased

Ensuring cause of death information is accurate is also important for the family of the deceased.

This information appears on the legal death certificate that is issued by the Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and which is used for administering the deceased’s estate. Genetic Services agencies also use information from the BDM Death Register when assessing an individual’s risk of inheriting a familial genetic condition.

Medical Certificate of Cause of Death

The New Zealand Medical Certificate of Cause of Death is consistent with the international form of Medical Certificate of Cause of Death recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that the questions asked on medical certificates are uniform throughout the world.

The Ministry of Health receives medical certificates and coroners’ reports and classifies the underlying cause of death using the rules and guidelines for mortality coding in the WHO’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th Revision (WHO ICD-10), and codes from the Australian Modification of ICD-10 (ICD-10-AM).

Postmortem reports

Postmortem reports are an important additional source of cause-of-death information in approximately 12 percent of deaths and 34 percent of stillbirths.

Copies of these reports are sent to the Ministry by hospitals and pathologists and are matched with the corresponding medical certificate or coroner’s report. The results are taken into consideration in assigning the underlying cause of death code.

Back to top