Pneumonia and influenza contributed to excess deaths among the general population in the weeks before and after Christmas, the chief medical officer’s office has said.
Analysis of all registered deaths in Ireland up to January 29th using a European monitoring algorithm “has shown that excess pneumonia and influenza mortality was observed over a three-week period in December 2022 and January 2023 (weeks 51 2022-1 2023)”, the office told the Irish Patients' Association.
However, the correspondence from the office of Professor Breda Smyth accepted the data was provisional because of a three-month time window in which deaths in Ireland can be registered.
It continued: “The Health Protection Surveillance Centre anticipates that when further deaths are registered over the coming weeks, additional excess mortality for the 2022/2023 winter period will be observed. It is likely that this excess mortality will be observed for at least a four to five week period in December 2022 and January 2023.”
The co-founder and director of the Irish Patients' Association, Stephen McMahon, said the information provided by the CMO’s office would be more valuable if it gave figures relating to the excess deaths noted by the office, even if they are only provisional.
"I think it would be helpful to have a reconciliation, even a rough one, in numbers to what contributed to excess deaths – flu, Covid, RSV, overcrowding in EDs and so on. That would focus minds as to what needs to be done. Behind all of those, there can be many reasons why the numbers could spike.”
Mr McMahon contacted the CMO’s office in relation to excess deaths following a report in the Irish Examiner last month which showed a 20 per cent rise in the number of death notices published on Rip.ie in an eight-week period from December 1st, 2022. The death notices had risen to 9,718 from 8,075 in the same period a year earlier.
At the end of last month Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that he would ask the CMO to examine the apparent spike in deaths, following the Irish Examiner report.
A Department of Health spokeswoman told the Irish Examiner: “As we have experienced a winter of high levels of influenza cases and hospitalisations, it would not be unexpected to see an increase in excess mortality. In addition, the Department of Health and the HSE keep under review a range of population health and epidemiological indicators to assess the impact of health threats in Ireland.”
She said there is no single source of data on excess mortality.
She added: “A number of different methodologies have been developed by organisations and academics internationally to try to estimate levels of excess mortality. Estimation methods vary widely.”