Aontú Leader Peadar Tóibín has called on Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to urgently convene an independent inquiry into the cause of excess deaths in the State. It comes as it was revealed to the Meath West TD that the number of excess deaths each month in the last year were 13% higher than the average number of deaths in that same month during the years 2016-2019.
The TD, in a parliamentary question put to the Minister for Health, asked for the level of excess deaths for each of the past 12 months. He also asked for details of the research he and his Department have undertaken into the cause of these excess deaths; the cause of these excess deaths; and the measures being taken to prevent excess deaths.
In response, the Minister said that the Department of Health “does not produce estimates of excess mortality.”
A response given to the TD read: “However, the Department works closely with the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) and other stakeholders to monitor estimates of excess mortality. Excess mortality refers to the number of deaths from all causes during a period of time above and beyond what we would have normally expected to see.”
“A number of different methodologies have been developed by organisations and academics internationally to try to estimate levels of excess mortality. It is important to note that estimation methods vary, for example in the years used to estimate a baseline, in how they estimate the level of expected deaths, the data source used for ‘actual’ deaths and whether statistical significance tests are applied before reporting deaths as excess. There is therefore no single source of data on estimated excess mortality.”
The Department said that internationally, work is underway to “improve methods to estimate excess mortality including moving the baseline years used to calculate expected deaths forward from pre-pandemic years.”
It said that “the gap between the current period and the baseline period is relatively wide and growing.”
“The gap is greater than would have been normal practice previously, which impacts on comparability between the current period and the period used to estimate ‘expected’ deaths.”
The Department pointed to the latest data published by Eurostat in August, referring to deaths in June 2023. That data revealed a 13/6 per cent increase in additional deaths in June. The statement explains:
“Based on the Eurostat methodology, it is estimated that Ireland experienced 13.6% additional deaths in June and has experienced additional deaths every month for the past 12 months (data attached). This means the number of deaths in each month was higher than the average number of deaths in that same month during the years 2016-2019. It does not account for population growth, ageing or other factors impacting on long-term mortality trends.”
The Department of Health told Mr Toibin it is “actively monitoring and reviewing all available data on mortality as it becomes available” in order to gain a better insight on the underlying mortality trends and factors influencing these.
“The Department supports the clear national commitment to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular with a view to ensuring the State’s preparedness for future public health threats,” it said.
In response, Mr Tóibín described the increase as “shocking” – saying that it should demand more investigation, in line with a Covid enquiry.
“I have been raising concerns about excess deaths for a prolonged period with the Government arising from concerns conveyed to me by the general public, and now I have been informed following a Parliamentary Question that in June of this year, it is estimated that Ireland experienced 13.6% additional deaths and has experienced additional deaths every month for the past 12 months,” the TD said.
“This figure is shocking. It should be top of the Minister for Health’s priority list, yet there is no evidence that there are any specific measures being undertaken to tackle all these deaths.”
The TD continued: “Indeed the narrative from the Government that excess deaths are not a significant issue is incredible. It demands more investigation in line with a pandemic inquiry that Aontú have been demanding now for some time. Citizens need answers not just on the cause and implications of these excess deaths but what health resources is the government putting in place to prevent them?
“We know that the government shut down much of the health service during Covid. It appears that this has led to many illnesses not being treated in time and further pressure being put on the health service.”
Mr Tóibín added: “The lack of information and continued delay in instigating a formal inquiry had bred suspicion and concern about how these matters are being addressed by the Government and I am again calling on the Health Minister to immediately put in place any legislative measures required to start delivering answers on these excess deaths and the wider concern around the Government approach to the pandemic.”
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast this morning, medical academic Anthony Staines said that it was “completely unacceptable” that it is “unclear exactly what is going on.”
The professor of Public Health said that there was a lack of clear excess health data.
“According to EuroMOMO, there really isn’t much sign of anything going on,” he said.
“That’s partly related to the fact that they’re measuring slightly different things and they’re using slightly different sources of data.”
He said one of the sources used by EuroStat to collect the data, RIP.ie, is not an official source.
“RIP.ie is a great service and it does amazing work – but it’s not a substitute for official death registrations,” he said.
“I think the fact that we don’t know what’s going on is almost completely unacceptable. In many countries in Europe, there are several different measures of population health which are undated all the time.”
He added: “Deaths being one, sickness absence being one and various other measures of health service use being one.
“All of this is public information, readily available, analysed and interpreted by the Department of Health – that’s the case in the UK, Germany and other places.”