HIQA analysis of death notices indicates pandemic death figure may be 'slight overestimate'

Ireland's official figure of 1,700 coronavirus deaths during the pandemic may be a “slight overestimate” but it is an accurate one, an analysis by the Health Information and Quality Authority has found.
HIQA analysis of death notices indicates pandemic death figure may be 'slight overestimate'

Additional reporting by Maresa Fagan

HIQA carried out the analysis to best determine the excess death rate due to the coronavirus.
HIQA carried out the analysis to best determine the excess death rate due to the coronavirus.

Ireland's official figure of 1,700 coronavirus deaths during the pandemic may be a “slight overestimate” but it is an accurate one, an analysis by the Health Information and Quality Authority has found.

HIQA assessed the number of deaths that occurred between March 11 and June 16 this year using data from the RIP.ie site and found there were between 1,100 and 1,200 more deaths than expected – a 13% increase.

However, the number of excess deaths based on historical patterns was substantially less than the reported 1,709 deaths over the same period.

HIQA's chief scientist, Dr Conor Teljeur, said some of the people infected with Covid-19 were frail and close to the end of life and others had pre-existing conditions so their deaths might have been accelerated as a result of contracting the virus.

Dr Teljeur said excess deaths peaked by 33% over six weeks from March 25 and May 5 when there was an increase of 1,200 deaths from the expected figures, with 1,332 Covid-19 related officially reported.

However, over the last four weeks of the analysis, there were fewer deaths than expected.

In Ireland, a Covid-19 death is recorded for a person who has had a positive test or is clinically suspected of having the virus and that there is a reason to believe that it might have played a role in their demise.

Dr Teljeur said the approach taken was reasonable but it did mean that there would be some people who died with Covid-19 but not necessarily because of Covid-19.

Official data from 23 European countries put Ireland mid-table but much closer to the low excess mortality countries than to the countries with high excess mortality.

Mortality was lower than several countries including Britain, Belgium, Italy, France and Spain.

Dr Teljeur said the data gave them confidence that all the control measures – the lockdown, social distancing and encouraging people to wear masks - were suppressing the virus.The analysis will be given to the National Public Health Emergency Team to help shape their response to Covid-19.

Meanwhile, a new analysis of mortality data by the Central Statistics Office has found that more deaths were recorded in community and nursing home facilities for older people than at other locations, such as hospitals, hospices, or at home, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the peak of the public health crisis in April, 1,237 deaths occurred in facilities for older people registered with HIQA.

This was a significant increase from 722 in March and the April figure accounted for 35% of all death notices.

By comparison, 831 deaths (24%) were recorded in hospitals, 634 (18%) at home, 96 (3%) in hospice facilities, and 704 (20%) in other/unstated places in the same month.

The analysis of more than 26,000 death notices between October 2019 and June 2020 found fewer deaths in HSE facilities compared to private or charity-run facilities.

The HSE was mentioned in 103 death notices in March and 170 in April compared to 619 mentions for private or charity run facilities in March and 1,067 in April.

The CSO pointed out the HSE has a much smaller bed capacity of 5,708 compared with 26,354 in the private and charity sectors.

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