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Measuring Mortality Using Public Data Sources

October 2019 - June 2020: Experimental Analysis

CSO statistical release, , 11am

Experimental analysis of the website www.RIP.ie as a more timely source of trends in mortality

Introduction

The CSO has a policy of careful and considered investigation of a data source before employing it to inform official statistics. However, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CSO began to explore experimental ways of obtaining up-to-date mortality data. Since the end of March 2020, therefore, the website www.RIP.ie has been used to keep track of death notices.

For reference, analysis of death notices was conducted back as far as 1 October 2019, to include the last month before the first global cases of COVID-19 were notified. The Death Events Publishing Service1 (DEPS) of the General Register Office (GRO) has been monitored in tandem, to validate the volumes of death notices published (see Benchmarking below).

This note represents an initial experimental analysis designed to indicate trends in mortality. When published, official statistics on mortality will allow for more thorough and definitive analysis and it is only in the context of full year statistics for 2020 that the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mortality might be understood.

Key Findings

  • Comparing CSO data with RIP.ie death notices for 2016 and 2017 showed a strong correlation of over 99%. This indicates that the number of death notices on RIP.ie can be used to accurately indicate trends in mortality (see Figure 2).
  • There was a pronounced increase in death notices in April 2020. The numbers of death notices rose from 2,861 in March to 3,502 in April and decreased to 2,635 in May and 2,155 in June2 (see Figure 4).
  • Death notices related to older persons’ facilities increased from 722 in March to 1,237 in April (see Figure 12).
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the challenges in obtaining timely statistics on mortality and in particular excess mortality (deaths over and above what would be expected under normal circumstances). Measuring the impact of such events on mortality trends can play an important role in policy and response efforts and in determining any additional impact on mortality related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects. Research by the Office of National Statistics in the UK for example, for the year to 19 June 2020, found an increase in mortality in England and Wales of 54,338 (over the previous five-year average), of which 49,371 mentioned COVID-19 on the death certificate3.
  • In Ireland, the CSO currently estimates that there are 1,072 deaths above those likely to be experienced under normal circumstances (based on this experimental analysis of RIP.ie death notices). The 1,736 deaths4 reported as COVID-19 related are not excluded from this figure. This estimate appears to indicate that Department of Health data on COVID-19 related deaths in Ireland comprehensively capture the impact of the pandemic on mortality (see further discussion on Excess Mortality below).
  • Information contained in the death notice shows that Dublin and surrounding counties were heavily impacted, while there were also rises in death notices for Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan (see Figures 7-10).
  • Examining the gender of the deceased in the death notice showed that in April 51.2% were male while 48.8% were female. However, in older persons' facilities only 41.9% were male while 58.1% were female. This difference can be directly linked to the composition of these facilities where Census figures indicate that about two-thirds of the population are women (see Table 1 and Table 3).
  • The use of terms such as ‘private’, 'broadcast' and 'webcam' in death notices increased significantly from March 2020, with ‘webcam’ mentioned almost 500 times between March and May 2020 compared with only 30 mentions in the five months to the end of February (see Changing Language of Funerals below).

Rationale

The website RIP.ie is a privately-owned company and over the last decade or so has become a popular website to notify deaths and provide funeral details, both for Irish and Northern Irish citizens and expatriates. Funeral directors have a secure login and can post a notice without cost on the website. Only funeral directors can post a notice, ensuring the data is of good quality and duplicates are rare. Due to the Irish custom of holding funerals within two to three days following death, these notices are usually placed in a fast and efficient manner. The combination of these market and cultural forces have made RIP.ie a valuable crowd-sourced means of tracking deaths. These notices are close to 'real time' - the average length of time between date of death and publication is about 1.1 days. When compared with the statutory time limit of three months5 for the registrations of deaths in the State, this is a timelier data source for monitoring trends in mortality.

Data Cleaning Process

The data on RIP.ie had to be cleaned before use, which involved removing duplicates and missing data. Northern Irish (NI) notices were identified by checking for mentions of the six counties or the postcode prefix of ‘BT’ used for NI postal districts. However, this could be misleading, as occasionally the death did occur in Ireland. Two or three place names were often recorded for the deceased, to indicate previous residences6. Similarly, the death notices of expatriates who died were mentioned in the context of their birth county. As a result, the majority of approximately 26,000 death notices for the period under investigation were read. In addition to county or country, it was possible to determine the place of death in most cases. This was generally a nursing home, a private residence, a hospital or a hospice. Although reading each death notice is initially onerous, it allows for the building of a model for automatic classification.

!-- Measuring Mortality Using Public Data Sources - BR-MMPDS FIG1 Created: 2020/6/16 10:6 -->
RIP.ie death notices (cleaned)RIP.ie (trailing average t=7)Covid-19 confirmed deathsNotices mentioning HIQA registered older persons' facility
1 Oct8624
2 Oct7121
3 Oct8722
4 Oct8026
5 Oct6912
6 Oct8214
7 Oct858018
8 Oct7478.285714285714319
9 Oct8980.857142857142917
10 Oct8981.142857142857128
11 Oct8782.142857142857124
12 Oct8484.285714285714320
13 Oct8885.142857142857118
14 Oct8785.428571428571426
15 Oct928825
16 Oct898823
17 Oct7385.714285714285717
18 Oct7984.571428571428618
19 Oct8985.285714285714324
20 Oct8584.857142857142918
21 Oct818423
22 Oct998517
23 Oct9886.285714285714324
24 Oct8087.28571428571438
25 Oct8988.714285714285722
26 Oct7286.285714285714316
27 Oct8586.285714285714319
28 Oct9788.571428571428623
29 Oct9187.428571428571432
30 Oct9386.714285714285723
31 Oct7786.285714285714321
1 Nov11690.142857142857127
2 Nov7790.857142857142924
3 Nov869117
4 Nov8689.428571428571424
5 Nov8588.571428571428627
6 Nov7185.428571428571422
7 Nov9187.428571428571418
8 Nov8883.428571428571421
9 Nov888523
10 Nov8885.285714285714318
11 Nov988727
12 Nov8787.285714285714315
13 Nov8989.857142857142923
14 Nov1069222
15 Nov7890.571428571428620
16 Nov778922
17 Nov888922
18 Nov9388.285714285714326
19 Nov8788.285714285714323
20 Nov1159237
21 Nov858915
22 Nov10392.571428571428632
23 Nov9194.571428571428625
24 Nov8093.428571428571421
25 Nov9894.142857142857131
26 Nov10997.285714285714329
27 Nov7992.142857142857117
28 Nov989425
29 Nov688915
30 Nov9088.857142857142920
1 Dec8789.857142857142916
2 Dec8888.428571428571420
3 Dec10187.285714285714325
4 Dec8287.714285714285725
5 Dec9487.142857142857115
6 Dec9090.285714285714325
7 Dec9490.857142857142924
8 Dec9091.285714285714320
9 Dec8090.142857142857123
10 Dec10190.142857142857125
11 Dec9391.714285714285727
12 Dec10793.571428571428634
13 Dec8893.285714285714318
14 Dec9893.857142857142923
15 Dec10796.285714285714321
16 Dec112100.85714285714333
17 Dec106101.57142857142928
18 Dec104103.14285714285726
19 Dec93101.14285714285720
20 Dec103103.28571428571420
21 Dec109104.85714285714327
22 Dec98103.57142857142925
23 Dec98101.57142857142934
24 Dec99100.57142857142926
25 Dec8597.857142857142924
26 Dec9197.571428571428621
27 Dec10898.285714285714329
28 Dec11298.714285714285732
29 Dec116101.28571428571422
30 Dec11010329
31 Dec108104.28571428571426
1 Jan99106.28571428571422
2 Jan102107.85714285714324
3 Jan104107.28571428571427
4 Jan102105.85714285714330
5 Jan84101.28571428571421
6 Jan9899.571428571428626
7 Jan10398.857142857142933
8 Jan10499.571428571428616
9 Jan108100.42857142857135
10 Jan114101.85714285714329
11 Jan90100.14285714285722
12 Jan122105.57142857142930
13 Jan109107.14285714285727
14 Jan87104.85714285714315
15 Jan94103.42857142857123
16 Jan92101.14285714285718
17 Jan7795.857142857142916
18 Jan9296.142857142857120
19 Jan9692.428571428571417
20 Jan7687.714285714285726
21 Jan10089.571428571428621
22 Jan9389.428571428571420
23 Jan8888.857142857142924
24 Jan9791.714285714285727
25 Jan8991.285714285714318
26 Jan7888.714285714285711
27 Jan8990.571428571428623
28 Jan10691.428571428571432
29 Jan6587.428571428571414
30 Jan11491.142857142857133
31 Jan7688.142857142857124
1 Feb958930
2 Feb9090.714285714285724
3 Feb8790.428571428571425
4 Feb8387.142857142857121
5 Feb9491.285714285714317
6 Feb7986.285714285714320
7 Feb9288.571428571428625
8 Feb988924
9 Feb10190.571428571428630
10 Feb7989.428571428571426
11 Feb9891.571428571428623
12 Feb10593.142857142857124
13 Feb8894.428571428571421
14 Feb10996.857142857142932
15 Feb9796.714285714285712
16 Feb8594.428571428571425
17 Feb9296.285714285714328
18 Feb9295.428571428571419
19 Feb9794.285714285714321
20 Feb8794.142857142857125
21 Feb8991.285714285714321
22 Feb9390.714285714285735
23 Feb7589.285714285714315
24 Feb8988.857142857142924
25 Feb9188.714285714285728
26 Feb858722
27 Feb10088.857142857142928
28 Feb8988.857142857142922
29 Feb8187.142857142857120
1 Mar8889024
2 Mar10090.5714285714286022
3 Mar8890.1428571428571027
4 Mar7588.7142857142857010
5 Mar9187.4285714285714022
6 Mar9988.8571428571429023
7 Mar8889.8571428571429021
8 Mar9490.7142857142857015
9 Mar7487015
10 Mar9187.4285714285714021
11 Mar9990.8571428571429121
12 Mar9291023
13 Mar8188.4285714285714022
14 Mar9689.5714285714286124
15 Mar8388023
16 Mar8689.7142857142857021
17 Mar8989.4285714285714019
18 Mar8887.8571428571429115
19 Mar9087.5714285714286128
20 Mar8888.5714285714286326
21 Mar9488.2857142857143531
22 Mar9489.8571428571429224
23 Mar9891.5714285714286632
24 Mar9091.7142857142857724
25 Mar11595.5714285714286930
26 Mar10597.71428571428571620
27 Mar8397426
28 Mar9296.71428571428571519
29 Mar9096.14285714285712026
30 Mar10396.85714285714291526
31 Mar117100.7142857142861942
1 Apr10899.71428571428572122
2 Apr108100.1428571428572124
3 Apr125106.1428571428573226
4 Apr1401133945
5 Apr126118.1428571428573148
6 Apr103118.1428571428572927
7 Apr150122.8571428571434157
8 Apr121124.7142857142863341
9 Apr128127.5714285714293957
10 Apr115126.1428571428573746
11 Apr136125.5714285714293662
12 Apr1431284456
13 Apr115129.7142857142863647
14 Apr134127.4285714285714347
15 Apr134129.2857142857144343
16 Apr122128.4285714285713144
17 Apr138131.7142857142863865
18 Apr109127.8571428571433952
19 Apr92120.5714285714292941
20 Apr126122.1428571428573139
21 Apr104117.8571428571433641
22 Apr1001132929
23 Apr104110.4285714285713125
24 Apr119107.7142857142864245
25 Apr82103.8571428571431525
26 Apr115107.1428571428573637
27 Apr113105.2857142857142039
28 Apr96104.1428571428571940
29 Apr98103.8571428571432434
30 Apr981032633
1 May9098.85714285714292035
2 May108102.5714285714292540
3 May9199.14285714285712223
4 May91961331
5 May8594.42857142857142429
6 May10695.57142857142862233
7 May9695.28571428571431822
8 May9495.85714285714291525
9 May9694.14285714285711219
10 May7892.2857142857143922
11 May7289.57142857142861020
12 May7588.1428571428571614
13 May9586.57142857142861525
14 May9386.1428571428571723
15 May9085.57142857142861416
16 May8584615
17 May8785.28571428571431324
18 May8687.2857142857143919
19 May8488.5714285714286719
20 May7085416
21 May7081.7142857142857322
22 May6978.7142857142857420
23 May8478.5714285714286529
24 May7977.4285714285714519
25 May8777.5714285714286720
26 May8577.7142857142857716
27 May6677.1428571428571517
28 May7577.8571428571429718
29 May9281.1428571428571415
30 May8381521
31 May7380.142857142857137
1 Jun8680318
2 Jun8079.2857142857143118
3 Jun6879.5714285714286517
4 Jun6578.1428571428571312
5 Jun7075316
6 Jun7273.4285714285714315
7 Jun7573.7142857142857416
8 Jun8072.8571428571429219
9 Jun7572.1428571428571217
10 Jun8073.8571428571429322
11 Jun5572.4285714285714215
12 Jun8474.4285714285714226
13 Jun7174.2857142857143218
14 Jun8375.4285714285714113
15 Jun8776.4285714285714120
16 Jun7376.1428571428571314
17 Jun5272.1428571428571114
18 Jun8376.1428571428571222
19 Jun8576.2857142857143110
20 Jun7777.1428571428571012
21 Jun5473216
22 Jun6870.2857142857143313
23 Jun7069.8571428571429013
24 Jun747317
25 Jun6770.7142857142857215
26 Jun6668019
27 Jun7367.4285714285714013
28 Jun7971019
29 Jun7171.4285714285714019
30 Jun326606
*Please note: data is correct as at 30 June 2020, however given the average lag of 1.1 days between date of death and date of notice the data for June throughout this publication will exclude some deaths which occurred in June but were posted after 30 June 2020.

Figure 1 shows daily analysis of RIP.ie death notices for the period 1 October 2019 to 30 June 2020 with a seven-day trailing average of death notices. Plotted alongside this are death notices which mention a HIQA registered older persons’ facility (further analysis below) as well as confirmed COVID-19 deaths7. Figure 1 clearly shows the rise in deaths experienced in March to April 2020 in line with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Benchmarking

A period of 22 months is allowed before the CSO publishes numbers of deaths by date of occurrence. This is to allow for late registrations of deaths. The latest monthly statistics for deaths by occurrence available at the time of analysis was 2017. The number of death notices on RIP.ie for years 2016 and 20178 was plotted in Figure 2 against the number of deaths by occurrence for the same period. There is a strong correlation of more than 99% between these two series.

Monthly Deaths by Occurrence (CSO)RIP.ie death notices (cleaned)
Jan 201631102974
Feb 201626882633
Mar 201628462762
Apr 201625332466
May 201624892426
Jun 201622662230
Jul 201623012291
Aug 201621822243
Sep 201623332270
Oct 201623972401
Nov 201625122528
Dec 201630102998
Jan 201734253384
Feb 201725322506
Mar 201726042545
Apr 201724142361
May 201723762405
Jun 201722302218
Jul 201722172205
Aug 201723052289
Sep 201723192295
Oct 201725562595
Nov 201724812524
Dec 201729592885

For the period under investigation, data were checked for reasonableness against GRO death registrations. The GRO publish these registrations weekly using the Death Events Publication Service (DEPS). When plotted by date of death, daily death notices show a remarkably strong correlation with daily death registrations. An analysis of data for Q4 2019 shows that the mean average number of days between the date of death and date of registration was 63 days while the median was 18 days. Publication to DEPS takes around another six days. In contrast, death notices are placed on average one day after the date of death for deaths in Ireland. The animated graph in Figure 3 shows the strong similarity between death notices and registrations.

Figure 3 Weekly Time-lapse of Death Notices on RIP.ie vs Deaths Registered with GRO, 2019 - 2020

Figure 3 GIF version

Potential Exclusion of Minority Groups in Irish Society

Death notices placed on RIP.ie appear to accurately follow the increased mortality associated with COVID-19 but it is not used by everyone in Ireland. Higher reported COVID-19 associated fatality rates amongst the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities in the UK and the African-American communities of the US were reminders of possible blind spots of deaths of minority groups, particularly those that traditionally may not use RIP.ie or be less frequent users9.

Measuring Excess Mortality

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the challenges in obtaining timely statistics on mortality and in particular excess mortality (deaths over and above what would be expected under normal circumstances). Measuring the impact of such events on mortality trends can play an important role in policy and response efforts and in determining any additional impact on mortality related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects. However, measurement of excess mortality is not straightforward. In order to most accurately measure excess mortality due to COVID-19 as part of this study, it would be necessary to clean and classify death notices compared with the GRO for several previous years. Adjustments might be required for broadband penetration, differing levels of expatriate usage and controlling for potential changes in road traffic fatalities due to lower vehicular activity and influenza deaths due to fewer personal interactions.

Figure 4 below shows the monthly recorded death notices for October 2019 – June 2020, this is compared with CSO mortality figures for the same period for the years 2005 to 2017. While there are observable seasonal peaks, there is significant variance year on year. However, a clear increase can be seen in the level of death notices observed in April of this year which contrasts with observed dips in mortality levels in April of all previous years.

2005-20062006-20072007-20082008-20092009-20102010-20112011-20122012-20132013-20142014-20152015-20162016-20172019-2020 (notices)
October2254216822662202234723412314247523512385252723972627
November2233228321972280234222802196240623322376231425122695
December2485257125842692261427132644278125802599265130103052
January2667265226903274293128302694287128282967311034252948
February2432254523202350229323002515250626962756268825322640
March2739257826642383238525802631283126562875284626042861
April2505239924692252224023512374263124462478253324143502
May2337217723522284230623622424244523102539248923762635
June2155220719712158222021942224218522062241226622302155

Get the data: StatBank VSD01

While noting the variance in the number of days in each month when comparing deaths per month, Figure 4 shows that there were more deaths in March than in February in 12 of the 13 years between 2005 and 2017 inclusive. There were fewer deaths in April than in March in all 13 of the years between 2005 and 2017. In April 2020 however, there was a sharp increase with the number of death notices rising from 2,861 in March to 3,502 in April.

Based on the analysis of death notices the estimate for excess mortality to 30 June 2020 is 1,072. This assumes that, in the absence of COVID-19 deaths, mortality would have followed a trajectory similar to previous years.

At this stage, this is a speculative estimate based on experimental data. As new data emerges this excess mortality measurement is subject to change. A similar estimate was prepared based on available data to 31 May 2020 and showed a higher estimate of 1,125 for excess mortality, but lower mortality in June has brought down this estimate.

It is important to put this figure of 1,072 deaths within the context of around 30,000 deaths per year. It is possible that there will be lower mortality levels later in the year given the concentration of these deaths in nursing homes and the older population (over 90% of COVID-19 deaths based on Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) data have been in the 65+ age group). In that sense this analysis can only give an indication of excess mortality at a point in time and data for the full year of 2020 would be required to provide a more definitive picture of excess mortality.

This figure for excess mortality, does not exclude the 1,7364 reported COVID-19 confirmed and probable deaths. As excess mortality is estimated to be lower than the number of reported COVID-19 deaths, this indicates the need to bear in mind some of the caveats mentioned above on measuring excess mortality including the year-on-year variations, concentration of deaths in the older population, and potential impacts of the COVID-19 restrictions on other death events. However, this estimate appears to indicate that Department of Health data on COVID-19 related deaths comprehensively captures the impact of the pandemic on mortality in Ireland.

Further analysis of confirmed and probable deaths due to COVID-19 can be found in the COVID-19 Death and Case Statistics releases.

Total Death Notices and COVID-19

RIP.ie death notices (cleaned)Covid-19 confirmed deaths
1 Mar880
2 Mar1000
3 Mar880
4 Mar750
5 Mar910
6 Mar990
7 Mar880
8 Mar940
9 Mar740
10 Mar910
11 Mar991
12 Mar920
13 Mar810
14 Mar961
15 Mar830
16 Mar860
17 Mar890
18 Mar881
19 Mar901
20 Mar883
21 Mar945
22 Mar942
23 Mar986
24 Mar907
25 Mar1159
26 Mar10516
27 Mar834
28 Mar9215
29 Mar9020
30 Mar10315
31 Mar11719
1 Apr10821
2 Apr10821
3 Apr12532
4 Apr14039
5 Apr12631
6 Apr10329
7 Apr15041
8 Apr12133
9 Apr12839
10 Apr11537
11 Apr13636
12 Apr14344
13 Apr11536
14 Apr13443
15 Apr13443
16 Apr12231
17 Apr13838
18 Apr10939
19 Apr9229
20 Apr12631
21 Apr10436
22 Apr10029
23 Apr10431
24 Apr11942
25 Apr8215
26 Apr11536
27 Apr11320
28 Apr9619
29 Apr9824
30 Apr9826
1 May9020
2 May10825
3 May9122
4 May9113
5 May8524
6 May10622
7 May9618
8 May9415
9 May9612
10 May789
11 May7210
12 May756
13 May9515
14 May937
15 May9014
16 May856
17 May8713
18 May869
19 May847
20 May704
21 May703
22 May694
23 May845
24 May795
25 May877
26 May857
27 May665
28 May757
29 May924
30 May835
31 May733
1 Jun863
2 Jun801
3 Jun685
4 Jun653
5 Jun703
6 Jun723
7 Jun754
8 Jun802
9 Jun752
10 Jun803
11 Jun552
12 Jun842
13 Jun712
14 Jun831
15 Jun871
16 Jun733
17 Jun521
18 Jun832
19 Jun851
20 Jun770
21 Jun542
22 Jun683
23 Jun700
24 Jun741
25 Jun672
26 Jun660
27 Jun730
28 Jun790
29 Jun710
30 Jun320

The RIP.ie death notices for each day in March to June 2020 are shown in Figure 5, alongside the confirmed COVID-19 deaths7. A clear correlation can be observed between the increase in death notices and COVID-19 confirmed deaths.

Death Notices and Gender

The gender of the deceased was inferred from death notices using forenames, personal pronouns, possessive pronouns and relative terms such as ‘beloved mother of’ and ‘husband to’. For the period under investigation, 51.3% death notices were for males while 48.7% were for females. Deaths reported by the CSO had a gender split of 51.1% male and 49.9% female for the years 2007 to 2017 inclusive. The highest percentage of death notices for males was in March 2020 (53.3%), when there were 89 deaths of males due to COVID-19 compared with 36 deaths of females. Of the 1,474 confirmed COVID-19 deaths7 for the months of March to June, 50.9% were male, while 49.1% were female.

The changing structure of deaths by gender over the period October 2019 to June 2020 can be seen by clicking on a month below:


Table 1 Deaths Notices by Gender, 2019-2020
 Death Notices FemaleDeath Notices MaleTotal Death NoticesFemale (%) Male (%)
October 20191,2741,3532,62748.5%51.5%
November 20191,2861,4092,69547.7%52.3%
December 20191,4791,5733,05248.5%51.5%
January 20201,4841,4642,94850.3%49.7%
February 2020 1,3061,3342,64049.5%50.5%
March 20201,3351,5262,86146.7%53.3%
April 20201,7101,7923,50248.8%51.2%
May 20201,2941,3412,63549.1%50.9%
June 202011,0601,0952,15549.2%50.8%
Total12,22812,88725,11548.7%51.3%
1Data is correct as of 30 June 2020, however, given the average lag of 1.1 days between date of death and date of notice the data for June throughout this publication will likely exclude some deaths which occurred in June but were posted after 30 June 2020.

Death Notices by County

In addition to information on trends in mortality and gender in the death notice it was possible to analyse both the county and place of death based on the information contained in the death notice.

Figures 7 to 10 below provide an analysis of death notices by county for the period October 2019 to June 2020. Most notable increases can be clearly seen in the Leinster and Ulster regions during the COVID-19 impacted period of March and April.

Deaths notices for Dublin increased from 763 in March to 1,103 in April, an increase of 44.6% while Carlow, Kildare and Meath also experienced significant increases from March to April of 54.3%, 80.7% and 41.8%, respectively (see Figure 7). In Ulster, death notices for Monaghan increased from 35 in March to 82 in April, a rise of 134.3% (see Figure 10).

Death Notices and Place of Death

The death notice often contains information about the place of death. For example, the death notice often indicates that the deceased died

  • suddenly, at home
  • in the tender loving care of the staff of a named nursing home
  • unexpectedly, under the care of the doctors and nurses of a named hospital
  • tragically, following an accident
  • peacefully, at a named hospice
  • on holiday, in a named foreign country
  • at home, in a named foreign country

From the information in the death notice it was possible to compile the place of death for more than 80% of cases. It was also possible to identify a death on holiday, an expatriate (emigrant) death and the death of a citizen of Northern Ireland. Care was taken for deaths around the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, as there are cases where it remains unclear which side of the border the deceased resided, despite the place of death. It appears possible that for those living close to the border, their funeral mass may be celebrated on one side, with burial on the other. Those dying on holiday have been classified as if they had died in Ireland, whereas Northern Ireland and expatriate deaths have been grouped together.

Often, the place of death was suggested or ambiguous, but not explicitly stated. For example, the deceased may have died 'surrounded by their loving family', without stating the setting. Another implication of the place of death was the suggestion of a donation to a named facility, e.g. hospice or community hospital patient comfort fund. However, these were often ambiguous, e.g. two or more donation recipients being suggested simultaneously. In the absence of an explicit place of death, notices were deemed to be other/unstated10.

HospitalHIQA registered Older Persons' FacilityHospiceAt HomeExpatriate / Northern IrelandOther / Unstated
October770642122423197670
November795688121450172641
December937763111526174715
January918724124495170687
February778687128455149592
March846722121494164678
April831123796634274704
May70567481648189527
June583474100560122438
Table 2 Analysis of Place of Death Mentioned in Death Notice, 2019-2020
 At HomePublic and Private HospitalsHIQA Registered Older Persons' FacilitiesHospiceOther / UnstatedTotal Death Notices IrelandExpatriate / Northern IrelandAll Death Notices
October 20194237706421226702,6271972,824
November 20194507956881216412,6951722,867
December 20195269377631117153,0521743,226
January 20204959187241246872,9481703,118
February 2020 4557786871285922,6401492,789
March 20204948467221216782,8611643,025
April 20206348311,237967043,5022743,776
May 2020648705674815272,6351892,824
June 202015605834741004382,1551222,277
Total4,6857,1636,6111,0045,65225,1151,61126,726
         
Ireland Total (%)18.7%28.5%26.3%4.0%22.5%100.0%  
         
Ireland April (%)18.1%23.7%35.3%2.7%20.1%100.0%  
1Data is correct as of 30 June 2020, however, given the average lag of 1.1 days between date of death and date of notice the data for June throughout this publication will likely exclude some deaths which occurred in June but were posted after 30 June 2020.

Death Notices and Older Persons' Facilities

It was also possible to derive information on deaths in facilities for older people, (e.g. 'in the care of the staff of named facility'), most of which are registered with the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA). HIQA's Older People's inspection team are legally responsible for the monitoring, inspection and registration of designated centres for older people, such as nursing homes, in Ireland11. This analysis focussed on mentions of HIQA-registered older persons' facilities12. At the time the study began there were 575 older person's facilities registered with HIQA (but at the time of publication, there were 577). The registered provider of 114 (20%) of the 575 HIQA-registered facilities is the Health Service Executive (HSE). These facilities are often referred to by names such as 'community hospitals' and 'community nursing units'. The remaining 463 (80%) of the 575 facilities have registered providers which include charitable organisations and limited companies. Worth noting in the context of this study is that some of these facilities contain hospices and palliative care functions where people with life-limiting illnesses spend their final weeks and days. This will have a significant effect on the level of mortality experienced.

RIP.ie death notices (cleaned)death notices mentioning a HIQA registered older persons' facilities
1 Oct8624
2 Oct7121
3 Oct8722
4 Oct8026
5 Oct6912
6 Oct8214
7 Oct8518
8 Oct7419
9 Oct8917
10 Oct8928
11 Oct8724
12 Oct8420
13 Oct8818
14 Oct8726
15 Oct9225
16 Oct8923
17 Oct7317
18 Oct7918
19 Oct8924
20 Oct8518
21 Oct8123
22 Oct9917
23 Oct9824
24 Oct808
25 Oct8922
26 Oct7216
27 Oct8519
28 Oct9723
29 Oct9132
30 Oct9323
31 Oct7721
1 Nov11627
2 Nov7724
3 Nov8617
4 Nov8624
5 Nov8527
6 Nov7122
7 Nov9118
8 Nov8821
9 Nov8823
10 Nov8818
11 Nov9827
12 Nov8715
13 Nov8923
14 Nov10622
15 Nov7820
16 Nov7722
17 Nov8822
18 Nov9326
19 Nov8723
20 Nov11537
21 Nov8515
22 Nov10332
23 Nov9125
24 Nov8021
25 Nov9831
26 Nov10929
27 Nov7917
28 Nov9825
29 Nov6815
30 Nov9020
1 Dec8716
2 Dec8820
3 Dec10125
4 Dec8225
5 Dec9415
6 Dec9025
7 Dec9424
8 Dec9020
9 Dec8023
10 Dec10125
11 Dec9327
12 Dec10734
13 Dec8818
14 Dec9823
15 Dec10721
16 Dec11233
17 Dec10628
18 Dec10426
19 Dec9320
20 Dec10320
21 Dec10927
22 Dec9825
23 Dec9834
24 Dec9926
25 Dec8524
26 Dec9121
27 Dec10829
28 Dec11232
29 Dec11622
30 Dec11029
31 Dec10826
1 Jan9922
2 Jan10224
3 Jan10427
4 Jan10230
5 Jan8421
6 Jan9826
7 Jan10333
8 Jan10416
9 Jan10835
10 Jan11429
11 Jan9022
12 Jan12230
13 Jan10927
14 Jan8715
15 Jan9423
16 Jan9218
17 Jan7716
18 Jan9220
19 Jan9617
20 Jan7626
21 Jan10021
22 Jan9320
23 Jan8824
24 Jan9727
25 Jan8918
26 Jan7811
27 Jan8923
28 Jan10632
29 Jan6514
30 Jan11433
31 Jan7624
1 Feb9530
2 Feb9024
3 Feb8725
4 Feb8321
5 Feb9417
6 Feb7920
7 Feb9225
8 Feb9824
9 Feb10130
10 Feb7926
11 Feb9823
12 Feb10524
13 Feb8821
14 Feb10932
15 Feb9712
16 Feb8525
17 Feb9228
18 Feb9219
19 Feb9721
20 Feb8725
21 Feb8921
22 Feb9335
23 Feb7515
24 Feb8924
25 Feb9128
26 Feb8522
27 Feb10028
28 Feb8922
29 Feb8120
1 Mar8824
2 Mar10022
3 Mar8827
4 Mar7510
5 Mar9122
6 Mar9923
7 Mar8821
8 Mar9415
9 Mar7415
10 Mar9121
11 Mar9921
12 Mar9223
13 Mar8122
14 Mar9624
15 Mar8323
16 Mar8621
17 Mar8919
18 Mar8815
19 Mar9028
20 Mar8826
21 Mar9431
22 Mar9424
23 Mar9832
24 Mar9024
25 Mar11530
26 Mar10520
27 Mar8326
28 Mar9219
29 Mar9026
30 Mar10326
31 Mar11742
1 Apr10822
2 Apr10824
3 Apr12526
4 Apr14045
5 Apr12648
6 Apr10327
7 Apr15057
8 Apr12141
9 Apr12857
10 Apr11546
11 Apr13662
12 Apr14356
13 Apr11547
14 Apr13447
15 Apr13443
16 Apr12244
17 Apr13865
18 Apr10952
19 Apr9241
20 Apr12639
21 Apr10441
22 Apr10029
23 Apr10425
24 Apr11945
25 Apr8225
26 Apr11537
27 Apr11339
28 Apr9640
29 Apr9834
30 Apr9833
1 May9035
2 May10840
3 May9123
4 May9131
5 May8529
6 May10633
7 May9622
8 May9425
9 May9619
10 May7822
11 May7220
12 May7514
13 May9525
14 May9323
15 May9016
16 May8515
17 May8724
18 May8619
19 May8419
20 May7016
21 May7022
22 May6920
23 May8429
24 May7919
25 May8720
26 May8516
27 May6617
28 May7518
29 May9215
30 May8321
31 May737
1 Jun8618
2 Jun8018
3 Jun6817
4 Jun6512
5 Jun7016
6 Jun7215
7 Jun7516
8 Jun8019
9 Jun7517
10 Jun8022
11 Jun5515
12 Jun8426
13 Jun7118
14 Jun8313
15 Jun8720
16 Jun7314
17 Jun5214
18 Jun8322
19 Jun8510
20 Jun7712
21 Jun5416
22 Jun6813
23 Jun7013
24 Jun747
25 Jun6715
26 Jun6619
27 Jun7313
28 Jun7919
29 Jun7119
30 Jun326

There was a significant increase in the number of deaths notices in April 2020 for residents of HIQA registered facilities for older people, rising from 722 in March to 1,237 in April, see Figure 12. The number of death notices referring to HSE facilities was much lower than in other facilities. HSE facilities were mentioned in 103 death notices in March, rising to 170 in April, while the number of mentions of private and charity-run facilities in death notices rose from 619 to 1,067 over the same time period. However, the HSE has much smaller maximum bed capacity of 5,708 compared with 26,354 in the private and charity sectors.

Figures 13 to 16 below show death notices mentioning a HIQA registered older persons' facility by county. Similar to Figures 7 to 10 above, the most significant increases can be observed in counties in Leinster and Ulster.

In Leinster, notices mentioning a HIQA registered facility in Dublin increased from 186 in March to 436 in April. In Kildare notices increased from 29 in March to 118 in April. Notices for Meath increased from 27 in March to 62 in April (see Figure 13). In Ulster, deaths notices mentioning a HIQA registered facility in Monaghan experienced a sharp rise, to 45 in April from six in March, and deaths notices mentioning Donegal facilities doubled from 10 in March to 20 in April (see Figure 16).

Although the total number of residents at the beginning of the pandemic in Ireland has not been possible to ascertain, the populations of nursing homes according to the national censuses in 2011 and 2016 were 20,802 and 22,762 respectively13. The definition of a census nursing home may differ slightly from the definition used for this study. According to Census 2016, approximately 66.4% of nursing home residents were female with an average age of approximately 85, while males with an average age of around 81 accounted for the remaining 33.6%. Therefore, in 2016, there were almost twice as many women as men in nursing homes, and women were on average around four years older than men. As such, it is not unusual to see a greater proportion of deaths amongst females. For the period October 2019 to February 2020, between 56.2% and 64.1% of death notices in a HIQA registered older persons’ facilities were females. For the months of March, April, May and June this figure was between 56.8% and 64.1%.

Table 3 Death Notices mentioning a HIQA registered Older Persons' Facility, 2019-2020
 Death Notices FemaleDeath Notices MaleDeath Notices TotalFemale (%)Male (%)
October 201936128164256.2%43.8%
November 201941727168860.6%39.4%
December 201945231176359.2%40.8%
January 202042829672459.1%40.9%
February 202040927868759.5%40.5%
March 202041031272256.8%43.2%
April 20207195181,23758.1%41.9%
May 202040626867460.2%39.8%
June 2020130417047464.1%35.9%
Total3,9062,7056,61159.1%40.9%
1Data is correct as of 30 June 2020, however, given the average lag of 1.1 days between date of death and date of notice the data for June throughout this publication will likely exclude some deaths which occurred in June but were posted after 30 June 2020.

The Changing Language of Funerals

In analysing death notices, it was possible to see not only the impact COVID-19 has had on mortality trends in Ireland but also the way in which it has shaped behaviour and responses to the effects of this pandemic. This impact was clear in the changing language observed in death notices on RIP.ie. References to 'private' gatherings increased dramatically from March onwards. References to 'corteges' increased, while references to 'rosary' decreased. The term ‘broadcast’ was used once between October 2019 and February 2020 but was mentioned more than 100 times between March and May 2020. ‘Webcam’ was used less than 30 times in the five months up to the end of February 2020, but was mentioned nearly 500 times between March and May.

Conclusion

The website RIP.ie has evolved to be a useful tool for monitoring mortality data, with an average lag of just over one day. The solemnity of the death event and professional relationship between funeral directors and RIP.ie ensures the quality of the data. The correlation between RIP.ie and the CSO death by occurrence for the months of 2016 and 2017, at over 99%, is promising. The website RIP.ie competently tracks the daily COVID-19 deaths, as notified to the government. Metadata provides useful information on the place of death, especially nursing homes, at such a critical time. Deaths notices are often succinct and have a traditional structure, as they originate in notices placed in newspapers, where they were paid for by the word. This topic is worthy of further research. The CSO is grateful to RIP.ie for the use their website.

For further COVID-19 related information go to the CSO COVID-19 Information Hub


Footnotes

1Death Events Service, contains details on all deaths notified to the General Register Office 

2Data is correct as at 30 June 2020, however given the average lag of 1.1 days between date of death and date of notice the data for June throughout this publication will exclude some deaths which occurred in June but were posted after 30 June 2020.

3Deaths registered weekly in England and Wales, provisional: week ending 19 June 2020, The Office of National Statistics (UK)

4National Public Health Emergency Team Statement, 30 June 2020

5Registering a Death in Ireland

6Where more than one address was given, the first county indicated was taken to be the address. Where an individual died in an Older Persons' Facility, the county of the facility was used to indicate the county of death. Further research is required here.

7The analysis of COVID-19 confirmed deaths by date does not include numbers for probable COVID-19 deaths (which are included in totals provided by the National Public Health Emergency Team). It was not possible to provide analysis of probable COVID-19 deaths by date. For full analysis of COVID-19 confirmed and probable deaths please see the COVID-19 Deaths and Case Statistics releases.

8Allowing for approximately 5% expatriate and Northern Ireland notices and 3% missing values.

9In order to ascertain the usage of RIP.ie contact was made with a number of organisations representing minority groups in Ireland. Twenty-two embassies were contacted, representing the largest 22 non-Irish nationalities in 2016. Of the 22 embassies contacted, five responses were received. Those that were able to respond have not noted a rise in deaths associated with COVID-19 amongst their citizens. According to Pavee Point, who represent the Traveller and Roma communities, most information about Traveller deaths are spread by word of mouth and by phone and social media. A small proportion of young Travellers use RIP.ie but the vast majority of older Travellers do not. At the time of contact (28th May 2020) Pavee Point had recorded six deaths of the Roma community due to COVID-19 in Ireland. In the East of Ireland, they had recorded three Traveller deaths due to COVID-19. The Irish Refugee Council was contacted, in particular in relation to deaths of COVID-19 in Direct Provision in Ireland. At the time of contact they indicated they were not aware of any deaths due to COVID-19 but noted the difficulty in obtaining information on deaths in Direct Provision. The Islamic Foundation, based in Dublin recommended contacting Newcastle Burial Ground for numbers of burials of members of the Muslim Community. South Dublin County Council, who administer this burial ground, provided numbers of burials per month from January 2015 to April 2020 inclusive. Monthly numbers were too small to infer any significant change, however, burials for March and April 2020 appear to be in line with the same months in the previous five years.

10Cases where the place of death was unclear or unstated have been combined with cases where the circumstances of death are potentially identifiable. These low-frequency instances include: 1) there were a small number of deaths at residential facilities for retirees of religious vocations that are not regulated by HIQA; 2) deaths due to accident; 3) deaths at residential facilities caring for people living with mental health issue.

11HIQA - Older People's Services

12Register of Older Person's Facilities (CSV download)

13StatBank E3008 (Age Profile of Ireland)


 

Further Information

Contact
E-mail: john.flanagan@cso.ie
John Flanagan
(+353) 1 498 4054
Anne O'Brien
(+353) 1 498 4033