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Just 6% of Covid deaths had ‘only Covid-19 mentioned on death certs’ say Northern Ireland Dept 

A Stormont government statement has confirmed that for death certificates issued in Northern Ireland in relation to the coronavirus, just 236 patients are certified as dying with Covid-19 virus as sole cause. 

However, the statement also adds that in identifying ‘Covid-19 as sole cause, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency “has included deaths which mentioned only Covid-19, with or without pneumonia, in Part 1 of the death certificate,” but that “figures exclude cases where Covid led to other diseases (e.g. respiratory failure) which ultimately caused death.”

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland revealed last week that, of the 3,950 deaths that were listed as Covid-related deaths, 94 per cent had other underlying health conditions. 

The response from Stormont indicates that 3,714 of those whose deaths were recorded as being Covid-related had an underlying health condition.

The FOI response, published on 18 January 2022, reads:

“Of the 3,950 deaths mentioning Covid-19 on the death certificate, 3,714 (94.0%) had at least one other health condition mentioned on the death certificate.” They confirmed that just 236 or 6% of deaths mentioning Covid-19 on the death certificate had only Covid-19 as a cause.  

However, commentators point out that a Covid infection may have exacerbated existing conditions and hastened deaths by overloading a patient’s system.  

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the NI Department of Finance were asked two questions regarding the 3,950 deaths mentioning Covid-19 on the death certificate having occurred from 18 March 2020 to 10 December 2021 amongst Northern Ireland’s population of 1.8 million.

“Firstly, How many individuals in N. Ireland who died with Covid-19 had at least one other health condition listed on the death certificate; and secondly: How many individuals in N. Ireland who died with Covid-19 had only Covid-19 listed as the sole cause of death on the death certificate?”

The FOI DoF/2022-0008 Request confirms that the Department holds the information requested, and adds that figures exclude cases where Covid led to other diseases (e.g. respiratory failure) which ultimately caused death. 

The response states: “In identifying ‘Covid-19 as sole cause’ NISRA has included deaths which mentioned only Covid-19, with or without pneumonia, in Part 1 of the death certificate. Figures exclude cases where Covid led to other diseases (e.g. respiratory failure) which ultimately caused death.”

It then states:  

“1. Of the 3,950 deaths mentioning Covid-19 on the death certificate, 3,714 (94.0%) had at least one other health condition mentioned on the death certificate. 

“2. 236 (6.0%) of the 3,950 deaths mentioning Covid-19 on the death certificate had only Covid-19 (with or without pneumonia) mentioned on the death certificate.” 

In December, NISRA published a report on pre-existing conditions associated with Covid-19 related deaths in Northern Ireland.

They found that “between 1 March 2020 and 30 September 2021, there were 3,462 Covid-19 related deaths registered in Northern Ireland.” 

“Covid-19 was the underlying cause of death (that is, the disease or injury which initiated the train of morbid events leading directly to death) for 3,007 deaths (86.9% of Covid-19 related deaths).” 

They also found that there were no pre-existing conditions in just 311 of the Covid-19 deaths – and that there was an average of 2.5 pre-existing conditions  per Covid-19 deaths.”  

“Pre-existing conditions are defined as any mention on the death certificate of a condition that pre-dated or was independent of Covid-19. There were no pre-existing conditions for 311 of the 3,007 Covid-19 deaths (10.3%). On average, there were 2.50 pre-existing conditions per Covid-19 death,” they stated.  

“Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease was the most common pre-existing condition, appearing in 767 of the 3,007 Covid-19 deaths (25.5%). The next most common pre-existing conditions were hypertensive diseases (635) and diabetes (632 deaths).”

 “During October and November 2021, a further 423 Covid-19 related deaths were registered. At present, there is insufficient information to identify the number and type of pre-existing conditions over this two-month period,” they explained.     

The UK Government and its national health service, the NHS, has stated that there is ‘good evidence’ that certain underlying health conditions ‘increase the risk’ of morbidity and mortality from COVID-19. 

“When compared to persons without underlying health conditions, the absolute increased risk in those with underlying health conditions is considered generally to be lower than the increased risk in persons over the age of 65 years (with the exception of the clinically extremely vulnerable).”

The JCVI committee identifies ‘risk groups’. It classifies underlying health conditions under this list:

  • Chronic respiratory disease, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis and severe asthma
  • Chronic heart disease (and vascular disease)
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Chronic neurological disease including epilepsy
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Severe and profound learning disability
  • Diabetes
  • Solid organ, bone marrow and stem cell transplant recipients
  • People with specific cancers
  • Immunosuppression due to disease or treatment
  • Asplenia and splenic dysfunction
  • Morbid obesity
  • Severe mental illness 

The news revealed through the FOI request in the North is likely to raise questions following months of media coverage surrounding the Covid death toll in Northern Ireland. 

The British Medical Journal, at the end of August 2021, published an article as news, which carried the headline: “Covid-19: Why is Northern Ireland’s death rate so high?” 

Citing Department of Health statistics, the BMJ article asserted: “Medical experts in Northern Ireland are striving to pinpoint why the country has such a high death rate from covid-19, as its current seven-day death rate per 100 000 people is more than twice as high as in the wider UK and 10 times as high as in the Republic of Ireland.”

It also cited an article from The Irish Times, ‘Covid-19: Death rate in Northern Ireland 10 times as high as Republic” which was published in August.  

Whilst Northern Ireland’s chief scientific adviser, Ian Young, previously claimed that there have been cases of young, unvaccinated people dying from covid-19, he has also clarified that the majority of deaths have been among elderly people.

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