Every day people die. It’s an unfortunate fact. But people die. We’ll all die. And, when we do, our deaths – little data-points in the aggregate – will get added to the mix. Northern Ireland, like every administrative region in every part of the developed world, has a statistics agency that counts up all the deaths every day and collates them by month. And this year, 2020, is no different to any other year. Deaths have been tallied. There’s no denying the data. Or is there?
In this, a ‘pandemic’ year, the month by month death data are more interesting than most. I’ve been looking at the numbers. And one month really jumps out. The month? January 2018. Why is this month particularly note-worthy? Well in most months, most Winter months, around 1,200 or 1,300 or even 1,400 people die. But in January 2018 2,101 people died. In fact, more than 500 more people died in January 2018 than the average number of deaths for the five years previously. This is the excess deaths number. 506 to be precise.
But, we’re told, 2020 is a pandemic year? So presumably we’ve knocked that previous record out of the park? Well, no. In not one month of 2020 have we seen that number of deaths. In April we came close with 1,933 deaths. In January this year we had much fewer deaths than in January 2018.
In 2018 it was well publicised that the health service came close to being overrun. There was a crisis. Seasonal deaths were very high. But, of course, no convoluted tests were being used to determine what people were dying of. No doubt, respiratory diseases played a big part in causing end of life, especially among older people. But no new test was conceived. After all, if people are dying from chronic respiratory failure the symptoms are obvious, the diagnosis easy. No fancy tests are needed to test for what is normally described as Winter flu. Or perhaps a particularly virulent form of cold.
Now let’s focus on April 2020 again. This is the month this year that was nearly as bad as January 2018 in terms of death count. If the health service was completely overrun in 2018, surely that was the case again in April, in a pandemic year? Well, no. That’s not the case. Because in 2020 – in March and April and May – the chronically ill patients, mostly elderly, were sent to care homes to die – for fear of hospitals being overwhelmed. So there was no real crisis in the hospitals. And, of course, elderly people with co-morbidities aren’t eligible for the limited ICU beds (there are less than 100 of them in Northern Ireland). So ICU beds never got to capacity in April.
So what about the so-called “second wave” in 2020 in Northern Ireland? Well, we’re told, hospitals, many of them, are at more than 100% capacity. But in September deaths were pretty average for time of year at 1,384. This number isn’t significantly worse than the death number in September 2015. And yet, in 2015, most of the economy hadn’t been closed down. People weren’t on state-funded furlough. We could all still get out for a meal or a pint, and still get our hair cut. But in 2015 we didn’t have the PCR test – a test contrived to define people as sick who clearly aren’t. And one result of this PCR test is that perfectly healthy medical staff are being sent home to “self-isolate” – meaning that they can’t help the spike in Winter patients – spikes that have occurred frequently in the past.
And remember, the most severe spike was in January 2018, not in any month, so far, in 2020.