Deputy Michael McNamara has shed renewed light on the manner in which many countries, including Ireland, are counting Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

The Clare TD was questioning Interim Director of Ireland’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre Dr. John Cuddihy about the current system of recording Covid cases and deaths in Ireland, when it was acknowledged by the doctor that if patients die because of a heart attack, stroke or other ailment, but are found to have tested positive for Covid-19, they will be recorded as a Covid-19 death as per the World Health Organization guidelines.

“If somebody who is asymptomatic…and they have a heart attack and are brought to hospital and are tested…and they die soon thereafter…are they recorded as a Covid death or not?” McNamara asked. “If they have tested positive for Covid but ultimately came to hospital because they’ve had a heart attack or a stroke, or fallen off the roof of a building or something like that?”

Responding to the TD, Dr. Cuddihy said, “[W]e adhere to the World Health Organization case definition in terms of the recording and reporting of deaths. So in the situation that you describe, where someone has a positive Covid test, then it is a death in a confirmed Covid case, but such a case would be subject to a coroner’s report as well, and as part of the ongoing validation of the data in Ireland’s surveillance system, we would take additional details in relation…”

Interjecting. McNamara said a coroner’s report takes a very long time to make its way through the system, prompting Cuddihy to confirm that a deceased person may be taken off the list of Covid-19 deaths at a later date following that report.

McNamara also asked Dr. Cuddihy about whether someone hospitalized with “a broken leg”, but then tested and found to be a positive in hospital, would be counted among the Covid-19 hospitalization numbers, to which the director of Ireland’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre said “they are included in the surveillance statistics, yeah.”

Dr. Cuddihy’s explanation of how deaths are being counted is consistent with official reports in July that Ireland’s death-toll from Covid-19 was overestimated.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar called the relevant HIQA study “interesting but not a surprise”, when it revealed that there was no clear evidence of excess deaths occurring since the first reported death due to Covid-19 in Ireland.

Mr Varadkar said: “In Ireland we counted all deaths, 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.”

The Tánaiste said this skewed the numbers but was the right method as the “priority is to save lives not look good in league tables.”

At today's COVID-19 Committee meeting, I questioned Dr. John Cuddihy of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre about the current system of recording COVID cases and deaths in Ireland.

Posted by Michael McNamara T.D. on Tuesday, 29 September 2020