This claim is inaccurate. While it is true that not everyone who was suspected of dying from COVID-19 was positively tested, it is legal and not fraudulent for a doctor to rely on their knowledge and belief of the cause of death, including cases where the person showed symptoms of COVID-19.

It is true that not every patient who is suspected of dying from COVID-19 has been positively tested. A test is not required in order for COVID-19 to be determined as a cause of death. A doctor who has not seen the patient can sign the certificate relying on their knowledge and belief of the cause of death, including cases where the person showed symptoms of COVID-19. 

The legal provision for this is the Coronavirus Act 2020, which changed death certification in Northern Ireland and enables death certificates to be signed in cases where a patient has died of a natural illness and the doctor who cared for the patient during their last illness is not available. 

FactCheckNI previously published an article which explained how the two main sets of figures relating to COVID-19 deaths are counted and presented:

  1. Daily reports (from the Public Health Agency) on the deaths of people who had previously tested positive for the virus within the last 28 days (mostly dying in hospital, though may include some people discharged to care homes or into the community); and
  2. Weekly reports (from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency) based on the date and registration of death where COVID-19 is mentioned on death certificates no matter where the person died, whether or not it was the primary underlying cause of death.

FactCheckNI have also published an analysis of the accuracy of COVID-19 death statistics.
This fact check was part of FactCheckNI’s investigation of multiple claims in a leaflet distributed in parts of Lagan Valley constituency.

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