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The AIHW has two main data holding for deaths data: the National Mortality Database and the National Death Index.

The AIHW manages and uses deaths data for monitoring and surveillance of deaths at the population level and for data linkage in health and medical research. All data linkage work at AIHW requires approval by the AIHW Ethics Committee.

How does the AIHW maintain security and privacy of information it holds about people?

The AIHW operates under a strict privacy regime which has its basis in section 29 of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Act 1987 (AIHW Act) and the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act). For more information, see Privacy of data.

In addition, a range of AIHW policies ensure the security of its data holdings including:

  • multi-layered and extensive privacy protection and disclosure prevention protocols; accredited and secure information and communication technology infrastructure.
  • information security policies that cover privacy, information gathering and receipt; information storage, retention and destruction; information transmission, retrieval and use within the AIHW; conditions applying to data linkage projects; information release and disclosure outside the AIHW; monitoring and audits; and breaches and sanctions.
  • security and business policies relating to physical security; work environment security; building security; use of electrical equipment and information and communication technology systems; data storage security arrangements; information security classification; security risk management policy; business continuity plan; business risk assessment; incident response procedures; and visitor management.
  • a sound governance framework including independent oversight bodies such as the AIHW Ethics Committee.
  • working within legislative requirements.
  • using AIHW data custodians to manage data access and use; executive level clearance of outputs and statistical confidentialisation processes.
  • processes to minimise the risk of identifying an individual in statistical outputs.

National Mortality Database (NMD)

The National Mortality Database (NMD) holds records for deaths in Australia from 1964 to 2013 and is considered an Essential Statistical Asset for Australia. The database comprises information about causes of death and other characteristics of the person, such as sex, age at death, area of usual residence and Indigenous status. The cause of death data are sourced from the Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriages in each state and territory, the National Coronial Information System and compiled and coded by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

For more information about the collection and compilation of deaths data in Australia, see About deaths data.

Table 1: Information on the NMD
Data item Description
Age at death Age at which the person died
Area of usual residence Based on the Statistical Local Area (or Statistical Area Level 2 for recent years) of usual residence in the 6 months prior to death, for indicating remoteness and socioeconomic status of area of residence
Country of birth Country in which the person was born
Date of birth Date of birth
Date of death Date of death
Indigenous status Indicates whether the person identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
Remoteness Indicates the level of remoteness of the usual residence according to the Australian Standard Geographical Classification (or Australian Statistical Geography Standard for recent years) 
Sex Sex of the person
State State of registration of the death
Underlying cause of death Underlying cause of death coded to the relevant version of International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD)
Multiple causes of death Multiple causes of death (all conditions listed on the death certificate) coded to the relevant version of ICD
Year Year of registration of the death
Years resident in Australia Length of time (in years) resident in Australia

For more information about deaths in Australia and data quality, refer to ABS Deaths, Australia (ABS Catalogue No. 3302.0) and ABS Causes of death, Australia (ABS Catalogue No. 3303.0), which are available from the ABS website.

General Record of Incidence of Mortality (GRIM) books

GRIM books are Excel workbooks that house historical and recent deaths data for specific causes of death in a readily accessible and easy to use format. They refer to different years for different causes of death, depending on the data availability, with some GRIM Books starting at 1907. The workbooks present age- and sex-specific counts and rates of deaths along with other summary measures including mean age at death, age-standardised death rates and potential years of life lost.

These workbooks are the only national level electronic source of readily available tabulations of deaths data for deaths registered prior to 1964. Data from 1964 onwards are sourced from the AIHW National Mortality Database  NMD.

Customised data requests

The AIHW offers a custom data request service for access to statistics that are not available in published reports, tables, dynamic data displays or data cubes. Customised tabulations of deaths data from the NMD can often be provided, depending on the level of detail required. Table 1 shows the types of information available in the NMD.

National Death Index (NDI)

The National Death Index (NDI) is a catalogue of death records that is used in data linkage for epidemiological studies. Its use is strictly confined to AIHW Ethics Committee approved health and medical research. The NDI contains person level records of all deaths occurring in Australia since 1980 obtained from the Registrars of Births, Deaths and Marriage in each state and territory.

The AIHW maintains a secure physical and computer environment for the linkage of the NDI with other datasets for research purposes, along with other measures to protect the privacy of individuals and the confidentiality of information. For more information, see the AIHW's Customer care charter.

NDI records are supplemented with cause of death information using a once-off data linkage with the NMD. This enhancement enables research that requires both fact of death (whether a person died) and cause of death (what the person died from).