The Statistical Branch gave general assistance to the Royal Commission on Population, 1944 to 1949, and undertakes work on statistics and the automatic processing of data for a number of other government departments.
The Registration Act of 1836 required the Registrar General to lay before Parliament an annual abstract of statistics of population. The Act also provided for cause of death to be stated in the register. In conjunction with the series of decennial censuses, a uniform system and central repository for such records thus became inaugurated. This has provided the means of establishing the state of the population by sex, age and occupation in any part of the country and a sensitive index of the social conditions and public and industrial health.
The development and analyses of vital statistics from these new sources, aided by the co-operation of the medical profession in making the statements of cause of death as accurate as possible and giving an authentic name to the fatal disease, was entrusted in 1839 to Dr. William Farr (Superintendent of Statistics, 1839-1880) who, recognising the importance of uniform nomenclature and scientific classification in medical statistics, devised a nosology which, subject to periodical revision to meet advances in medical science, has culminated in an internationally agreed statistical classification of diseases, injuries and causes of death. (The World Health Organisation now issue the standard Manual of the International Classification of Diseases, Injuries and Causes of Death which is subject to decennial revision.)
To meet the need for more information on the nation's health other than that revealed by analysis of the death registration records, collection of statistical information from other sources began. From 1895 data extracted from a regular series of weekly returns of certain infectious diseases in London, and later for the whole country, were analysed. The Registrar General had already published a Weekly Return of Births and Deaths for London and other large towns and from 1922 statistical data from the returns of births, deaths and selected infectious diseases in England and Wales were combined in The Registrar General's Weekly Return.
Improvements in statistical data continued and in 1927 a new form of medical certificate of cause of death was introduced specifying contributory causes. Cause of death certification is also required in cases of stillbirths, under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 and the Population (Statistics) Act 1960, though certification and registration had been introduced under the Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1926. The Population (Statistics) Acts of 1938 and 1960 provide for data on fertility to be collected when births or stillbirths are registered and questions on this subject have been asked in recent censuses.
An extensive range of population and medical statistics is produced from the results obtained from the census, civil registration and migration data together with notifications of infectious diseases and congenital malformations and medical records from other sources.
In addition to the weekly return, population and medical statistics were analysed in The Registrar General's Quarterly Return, the Annual Statistical Review of England and Wales and Decennial Supplements, and Annual Estimates of the Population of England and Wales and Local Authority Areas. Since 1975 these publications have been superseded by a series of separate volumes on topics within the range of Office of Population Censuses and Surveys activities, thus meeting the demand for speedier dissemination of analysis and interpretation of reliable data on more narrowly defined subjects. They are OPCS Monitors, (the first of which replaced the RG's Weekly Return), providing quick release of summarised statistics; Population Trends published quarterly and separate annual reference volumes on one or more closely related topics concerning the interpretation of and studies on population and medical statistics. The occasional series of Studies on Medical and Population Subjects continue to be published.