HIQA report finds that official Covid-19 death toll in Ireland has likely been overestimated 1 month ago

HIQA report finds that official Covid-19 death toll in Ireland has likely been overestimated

According to the government, as of 2 July, there have been 1,738 Covid-19 related deaths in Ireland.

The official figures for the number of people who have died as a result of Covid-19 in Ireland are likely to have been overestimated, according to a report from the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA).

The report found that the officially-reported number of Covid-19 deaths “likely overestimates the true burden of excess deaths caused by the virus”.

The reason for this, the report suggests, “could be due to the inclusion within official figures of people who were infected with SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) at the time of death whose cause of death may have been predominantly due to other factors”.

The HIQA report examines the number of excess deaths that have occurred in Ireland during the Covid-19 pandemic in a period of just over three months, from 11 March to 16 June.

It assesses the number of deaths in Ireland during that time relative to the expected number of deaths using data from the death notices website RIP.ie and examines whether the reported Covid-19 death figure provides an accurate number of excess deaths.

According to HIQA’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Conor Teljeur, there were approximately 1,100-1,200 more deaths than would have been expected according to historical patterns, a number which is substantially less than the number of Covid-19-related deaths (1,709) reported during that time.

To determine the robustness of the findings, sensitivity analyses were conducted, and the highest estimated excess mortality from the different models tested – all of which incorporated uncertainty –  was 1,266 deaths.

HIQA clarified that the calculation of excess mortality in the report does not consider cause of death. While it is possible that mortality may have decreased for certain causes of death during the Covid-19 epidemic, it said that is not possible to examine this using the RIP.ie data.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) is the official source of mortality data in Ireland, but a delay of up to three months is permitted for a death certificate to be filed.

“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,” Dr. Teljeur said.

“There were about 1,100 to 1,200 more deaths than we would expect based on historical patterns; a 13% increase between 11 March to 16 June. However, the number of excess deaths is substantially less than the reported 1,709 Covid-19-related deaths over the same period.”

Using data from the EuroMOMO (a European Mortality Monitoring Activity) collaboration that includes 23 European countries, HIQA found that the excess mortality during the Covid-19 pandemic puts Ireland mid-table, but much closer to the low excess mortality countries than to the countries with high excess mortality.

“Excess deaths peaked by 33% over a six-week period from 25 March 2020 to 5 May 2020,” Dr. Teljeur added.

“During this period, there was an increase of 1,200 deaths from expected figures, with 1,332 Covid-19-related deaths officially reported.

“In the last four weeks of the analysis, we have 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.”

The HIQA report can be read in full here.