COVID death toll may have been overstated

Analysis of excess deaths carried out by HIQA
  • Deborah Condon

An analysis of the number of excess deaths that occurred in Ireland during the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that the official COVID-related death toll may have been overstated.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has published a report examining the number of excess deaths that occurred in Ireland between March 11 and June 16, relative to the number of expected deaths during this period.

This was done using data from the death notices website, RIP.ie.

The HIQA report states that the official death toll likely overestimates the true burden of excess deaths caused by the virus. Based on daily deaths, the estimated excess is less than the reported number of COVID-19 deaths by at least 419 cases.

"Based on an analysis of the death notices reported on RIP.ie since 2010, there is clear evidence of excess deaths occurring since the first reported death due to COVID-19 in Ireland.

"There were about 1,100 to 1,200 more deaths than we would expect based on historical patterns - a 13% increase between March 11 and June 16. However, the number of excess deaths is substantially less than the reported 1,709 COVID-19-related deaths over the same period," explained HIQA's chief scientist, Dr Conor Teljeur.

The HIQA report said that the reason for the death toll likely being overestimated could be due to the inclusion within official figures of people who were infected with SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) at the time of death, but whose cause of death may have been predominantly due to other factors.

"Excess deaths peaked by 33% over a six-week period from March 25 to May 5, 2020. During this period, there was an increase of 1,200 deaths from expected figures, with 1,332 COVID-19-related deaths officially reported," Dr Teljeur noted.

He said that in the last four weeks of the analysis, there has seen a reversal of that trend, with fewer deaths than expected.

"However, it is also possible that the changes to healthcare delivery during the COVID-19 epidemic, such as the suspension of elective activity in public acute hospitals, may have a lasting impact on health outcomes, the effect of which may take years to be seen," Dr Teljeur added.

The report, Analysis of excess all-cause mortality in Ireland during the COVID-19 epidemic, can be viewed here.

 


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