It is “completely unacceptable” that the Government cannot say with absolute certainty whether excess deaths are on the rise, a leading expert in public health has said.
Data released to Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín after a Parliamentary Question concluded excess deaths in the last year were 13% higher than they were between 2016 and 2019.
However, the quality of the data is disputed and Professor of Public Health Anthony Staines told Newstalk Breakfast it is “unclear what exactly is going on”.
“According to EuroStat, there’s around a 13% excess death rate in Ireland across all ages,” he said.
“According to EuroMOMO, there really isn’t much sign of anything going on.
“That’s partly related to the fact that they’re measuring slightly different things and they’re using slightly different sources of data.”
Professor Staines noted that one of the sources used by EuroStat to collect its data is RIP.ie which - while popular - 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.
“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.”
Professor Staines said high-quality data is essential for planning and allocation resources.
He said the lack of it is one reason Ireland’s health service “isn’t working terribly well”.
“We see enormous queues for services, we see people waiting on trolleys, we see a very underfunded general practice primary care system,” he said.
On the question of whether EuroMOMO or EuroStat is more accurate, Professor Staines said he wished could say for certain.
“At the moment, I think there probably is a modest excess of deaths, looking at the two sets of data and kind of squinting,” he said.
“There is a lot of COVID around - which is producing relatively small numbers of deaths because we have vaccines and the vaccines are making an extraordinary difference.
“There is a health service that is buckling at the seams and we’ve seen in the UK this contributes to excess deaths as well.
“So, I think there’s reason to believe there might be a small number of excess deaths.
“I don’t think the excess reported by EuroStat is likely to be correct - that does seem a little high - but I don’t know, I really don’t know.”
Last year, then-Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the health service is facing a “frightening wave of delayed cancer diagnoses” because many were missed during the pandemic.
Main image: Anthony Staines and an ambulance.