Coronavirus: Deaths in Northern Ireland more than 40% higher than thought

Statistics agency puts Covid-19 deaths at 79 compared to health agency figure of 56

PSNI officers check the validity of driver journeys in Portstewart, during coronavirus restrictions in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

PSNI officers check the validity of driver journeys in Portstewart, during coronavirus restrictions in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

 

The number of deaths associated with coronavirus in Northern Ireland is more than 40 per cent higher than had previously been thought.

According to the latest figures published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), there were 79 such deaths in the North between March 18th – when the first fatality was recorded – and April 3rd.

As of the morning of April 4th, the Public Health Agency (PHA) had recorded 56 deaths associated with coronavirus, also known as Covid-19 – 23 fewer than those reported by NISRA.

The PHA publishes a daily statistical bulletin which reports the number of people with a positive diagnosis of coronavirus who have died in hospital.

They do not include those who may have died in other settings, such as care homes, or who had not been tested for coronavirus.

Testing had been limited to patients who are being admitted to hospital and some healthcare workers, but the North’s health minister, Robin Swann, said on Tuesday that any care home resident or member of staff who displayed symptoms of coronavirus was being tested.

He also said that NISRA is to produce, as soon as possible, statistics on coronavirus-related deaths and suspected deaths in care homes.

Fatalities

Figures released by the PHA on Tuesday revealed that 10 more people with coronavirus had died in Northern Ireland’s hospitals in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of such fatalities to 134.

Eighty-five new cases have been identified, and the total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus now stands at 1,967.

NISRA’s figures, which are published in its weekly statistical report on deaths registered in Northern Ireland, differ from those published by the PHA as they are based on registered deaths which mention coronavirus on the death certificate.

This makes them slower to prepare but includes all deaths, regardless of location.

They may also, according to NISRA, “include cases where the doctor completing the death certificate diagnosed suspected cases of Covid-19, for example, where this was based on relevant symptoms, but no test for the virus was conducted”.

Neither set of data attributes cause of death to coronavirus, and it is not known how many people have died from the disease in the North.

Deaths register

The Department of Health (DoH) said it had “publicly stated that it is not possible for PHA’s daily Covid-19 bulletin to accurately pick up, on a daily basis, deaths that occur outside of hospital settings”.

“The process for registering deaths in the community takes a number of days. It involves a doctor completing a death certificate and then the death being registered by the General Register Office and NISRA. It takes up to five days to register a death – and sometimes longer.”

The DoH said it would “continue to work with NISRA, the PHA and others to ensure that all published statistics give as full a picture as possible on Covid-19.”

Concerns had been raised that the number of coronavirus-related deaths was being under-reported, particularly in regard to fatalities in care homes.

There are 483 care homes in Northern Ireland. The North’s Health Minister, Robin Swann, said on Tuesday that 32 were now affected by coronavirus.

The Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride, told BBC Radio Ulster that he did not have the detail as to how many coronavirus-related deaths there had been in care homes in Northern Ireland.

He said the PHA’s daily bulletin allowed the health authorities to track how coronavirus was behaving, and to determine the effectiveness of measures like social distancing.

“We need to have a vital early indication and an immediate understanding of how the virus is spreading, and its impact.”

In time, he said, “when we have all the data on death, we will have to look back and see what the impact of this pandemic was – those people who died directly as a consequence of Covid-19, those who died of another cause with Covid-19 . . . or those people whose time of death may have been sadly and tragically brought forward as a result of Covid-19,” he said.

The North’s Department of Agriculture announced on Tuesday that it would offer its laboratories to increase testing capacity.

The club and grounds of City of Derry Rugby Club are also to be used as a test site.