A new report from the health watchdog shows there were 1,200 more deaths during the height of the pandemic than would normally be expected.
A report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) shows that while Covid-19 caused a 13% increase in deaths in Ireland between March and June 2020, the number of excess deaths linked to the virus may be “substantially” less than has been reported.
Hiqa analysed the number of deaths that occurred in Ireland from March 11 to June 16 relative to the expected number of deaths, using data from the death notices website www.rip.ie.
The report found that while there were 1,200 more deaths during that period, this is less than the 1,709 people recorded as having died from Covid-19 during those months.
The official Covid-19 death toll stands at 1,738 but Hiqa said that figure includes people who were infected with the virus but may have died from other causes.
Chief Scientist at Hiqa Dr Conor Teljeur said: “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 to June 16.
“However, the number of excess deaths is substantially less than the reported 1,709 Covid-19-related deaths over the same period.”
He said some Covid-19 deaths may have been due to other causes but added “we think that this is probably a small amount”.
The medic said there were “possibly people who may have been close to end of life or at end of life and died with Covid-19, but we would have expected them to have died during this time period”.
Dr Teljeur added it is also possible that the changes to healthcare delivery during the Covid-19 pandemic 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”.
Tanaiste Leo Varadkar said the report’s findings were “interesting but not a surprise.”
This was right approach but skewed the numbers. Priority is to save lives not look good in league tables.— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) July 3, 2020
He tweeted: “In all settings, suspected cases even when no lab test was done, and included people with underlying terminal illnesses who died with Covid but not of it.”
Mr Varadkar added that this was the “right approach but skewed the numbers”, saying the priority was “to save lives, not look good in league tables”.