The economic damage caused by measures taken to combat the Covid-19 pandemic are likely to reduce the life expectancy of the poorest people here, it has been warned.
The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) has been told the official pandemic response may be more harmful than the virus itself.
Minutes from a briefing by one of Northern Ireland's most senior doctors at an HSCB board meeting state "there is a major risk that the cure will be worse than the disease".
Professor Hugo van Woerden, who was director of public health at the Public Health Agency until last week, appeared in front of the board in September and provided a grim assessment of the potential impact of Covid-19 on some of the most vulnerable in society.
According to the minutes of the meeting, Prof van Woerden "indicated that in March, April and May, there was excess mortality that is more than expected deaths" compared to the average for the same time over the last five years.
The document continued: "Professor van Woerden highlighted that there were many more deaths from non-Covid causes than Covid-related in any given week.
"Professor van Woerden emphasised the need to continue to push to maximise the use of health and social care facilities given the rising waiting lists in Northern Ireland.
"He also expressed concern that there will be significant long-term economic damage to society as a result of the response to Covid-19, which is likely to reduce life expectancy in the poorest in society. There is a major risk that the cure will be worse than the disease."
Health inequalities locally are a significant issue, with people living in the most deprived areas more likely to die younger than those living in the most affluent areas.
According to the 2020 Health Inequalities Report, the life expectancy of a man living in the most deprived part of Northern Ireland is 74.6 years - more than seven years less than a man living in the least deprived area. Meanwhile, the female life expectancy in the most deprived area is 79.7 years, compared to 84.1 years for a woman living in the most affluent area.
The Department of Health said it is "aware and has acknowledged the adverse and unavoidable impact of Covid-19 on all parts of society".
It added that a framework had been developed to rebuild services.
The department said: "The best way to ease the pressure on our health service and its staff is to drive down Covid infection rates.
"That's how we can free up more capacity so that more treatments can be provided for non-Covid patients."