New safefood study shows the impact of Gastroenteritis on Northern Ireland’s economy

1 April, 2008. A new safefood study – The Economic Impact of Gastroenteritis on the Island of Ireland - has revealed that Gastroenteritis costs Northern Ireland’s economy more than £22 million each year.

The report commissioned by safefood and carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Trinity College Dublin was launched at a conference in Dublin today.

Dr Thomas Quigley, Director, Food Science, safefood commented: ‘This report highlights the substantial economic cost of gastroenteritis in Northern Ireland.  Although the costs associated with work make up a large part of the economic burden, a significant proportion falls to patients and their families.

“The average annual cost to individuals and their families represent about 20% of the overall burden to the economy or £16.33 per person. Almost 50% of these costs are associated with missing work while 20% are health service costs.”

“Understanding the financial impact of gastroenteritis allows us to inform decisions on the measures we can take to reduce the number of future cases.” Dr Quigley continued. 

Gastroenteritis is a common, but generally preventable illness of the digestive system. It is usually caused by germs which enter the body through the mouth and symptoms include diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain and nausea.

The main treatment for gastroenteritis is fluid replacement and attention to hygiene, to prevent the spread of the illness to others. However, medical attention should be sought if symptoms persist and for vulnerable groups such as infants. 

safefood advises that simple measures such as proper hand washing and following the correct food safety rules for the preparation and handling of food can reduce the number of cases of gastroenteritis. 

Approximately 10% of people in Northern Ireland suffer from gastroenteritis each year. These figures are in line with estimated rates from other similar European Un ion studies. However, it is thought that gastroenteritis is underreported because in many cases patients can manage the illness themselves without going to the doctor.

Between 20% and 40% of gastroenteritis is reported amongst children aged one to four years of age and almost 2% of children on the island are admitted to hospital each year due to gastroenteritis.

A full report on the research is available on the safefood website,


For further information / media interviews please contact

Leanne McCarroll / Kathy Doyle, Smarts
028 90395500 /


Dermot Moriarty, safefood
+3531 448 0060

Editors Notes

Further research findings

  • The perspective taken was societal, that is the costs were assessed regardless of who bears them. It was therefore necessary to assess costs to primary and secondary health services, those falling on individuals, families and friends, and those falling on third parties such as employers.
  • In most cases the results presented in this report are based on data gathered and analyses specifically for this study.
  • The overall rate of gastroenteritis is 100 per 1,000 per year (10%), both in ROI and in NI. This rate varies by age with a rate of 20% to 40% for children aged 1 to 4 years and much lower for adults.
  • The overall rate of presentation with gastroenteritis to medical services is 40 per 1,000 per year, both in ROI and in NI.
  • There is a higher burden per head in ROI (€25.94/£17.51 per head per annum) as compared to NI (€20.16/£13.61 per head per annum), which is the result of both lower presentation to primary care in NI and slightly lower costs of some services.
  • In ROI the proportion of costs that fall on the patient and their families is always higher if the individual presents to a health service. The latter is because the NHS in NI covers costs for hospitals, in-hours and out of hours GP services for all the population, whereas in ROI the General Medical Services (GMS) scheme only covers the full cost for certain individuals in the community.
  • The overall annual rates of hospitalisation with gastroenteritis as the primary diagnosis were around 1 per 1,000 persons, in both ROI and NI. The age specific rates were similar in the two jurisdictions, with highest rates among infants (about 18 per 1,000 per year) and children 1 to 4 years of age (about 7 per 1,000 per year).
  • The total direct hospital costs to ROI and NI are €5,755,763 and €3,016,349 respectively.