The federal public health institute Sciensano yesterday declined to deliver a set of statistics on deaths from Covid-19 to the special parliamentary committee on the pandemic.
The committee had requested a breakdown of deaths by hospital, in order to be able to plot the areas of the country with the highest death rates.
But the institute refused to provide the figures, arguing that raw numbers, unaccompanied by the background of each case, could be wrongly interpreted.
“Releasing this data per hospital, without context, could be dangerous,” said Christian Léonard, director of Sciensano.
One hospital is not another, Sciensano argued.
“It's not that easy to make a comparison between hospitals,” said Koen Blot, internist at Sciensano.
“For example, we only know how many people are admitted per day with Covid, not what profile they have.” There is no data on [the patients’] age, gender, underlying conditions, and so on.”
Each of those things affects the chance of death.
“Also, a hospital that takes on more healthy patients on average may have lower death rates,” Blot said.
“The same applies to a hospital with a small intensive care unit. You run into a lot of interpretation difficulties.”
At present Sciensano, in its daily updates, gives information on overall number of deaths, as well as numbers broken down by region, gender and age group. MPs would like to see those numbers broken down further according to the individual hospital concerned. Such a breakdown could be misused, the institute fears.
Meanwhile members of the committee have expressed anger at the institute’s reaction to a request from parliament.
“These figures are essential to further investigate the impact of the crisis,” said Frieda Gijbels (N-VA) of the opposition. “Sciensano's arguments for not giving them border on nonsense and contempt for parliament.”
At the same time, the refusal of one public institution to provide information to the highest of them all caused some misgivings among even the majority parties.
Federal health minister Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit) will appear in parliament next Tuesday to answer questions from MPs.