Death figures reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) at Covid-19 briefings “may be inaccurate”, a coroner has said.
Mayo coroner and solicitor Patrick O’Connor believes the recorded death figures for the illness “do not have a scientific basis”.
As of last Thursday, a total of 4,820 deaths related to Covid-19 have been recorded in Ireland.
But cases where Covid is recorded as the principal cause of death when a person is already terminally ill raise questions about the accuracy of the method of recording, said Mr O’Connor, who is public information officer for the Coroners Society of Ireland.
“In reality, a lot of people have terminal cancer or multiple other serious co-morbidities. People can die from Covid and or with Covid. I think numbers that are recorded as Covid deaths may be inaccurate and do not have a scientific basis,” Mr O’Connor said.
“When a person is suffering from a number of medical conditions which will or may lead to their death at some short time in the future, if they are unlucky enough to be infected by the Covid virus then at death if they prove to be Covid positive in a test, it is that which is recorded as the principal cause of death — even though that person may have been terminally ill with a short life-expectancy prior to such testing.”
In a report published last week, Kildare coroner Dr Denis Cusack presents evidence that 99pc of the 230 Covid-related deaths in Kildare to date had underlying conditions.
“The associated or underlying medical conditions reported in the 230 persons who died directly from Covid-19 or whose death had Covid-19 as a contributory cause were taken from the original reports to the coroner detailing clinical conditions,” Dr Cusack’s report states.
Of the 230 deaths notified, 228 (99pc) had underlying conditions: 132 (57pc) cardiovascular (including hypertension); 120 (52pc) dementia; 58 (25pc) respiratory; 36 (16pc) oncological; 30 (13pc) neurological; 25 (11pc) diabetes; and 23 (10pc) renal.
While all Covid-related deaths must be reported to the coroner, Covid-19 deaths do not require inquests because the illness is considered a pneumonia and therefore a natural cause of death.
However, a coroner can direct an inquest into a death based on individual circumstances and where there is a concern in relation to a person who became infected with the illness.
Mr O’Connor has opened two such inquests in Co Mayo into the death of 17-year-old Ballyhaunis student Sally Maaz and 79-year-old John Carolan from Ballina.
Both died after contracting the virus at Mayo University Hospital and these inquests have been adjourned for mention on June 21.
“These two inquests are taking place because of the individual circumstances of each person at the time of their death,” Mr O’Connor said.
The inquests directed by me into those two deaths were deemed to be in the public interest.
“A Covid death is one that occurs from ‘natural causes’. It is a pneumonia and as such it is a natural cause of death. The circumstances leading up to and surrounding a death can now be investigated by a coroner during an inquest under the provisions of the coroners (Amendment) Act 2019.
“Every death reported to a coroner is examined carefully. Whether an inquest is directed by the coroner is at his or her discretion and depends on the individual circumstances of such a death.”