Bank of Ireland Life paid out €94m in claims for life, illness and payment protection insurance last year, a rise of 6pc over 2011.

The bank reported a rise in both the total amount paid out and the number of claims.

Heart-related illnesses and cancer continue to be the main threats to our health, with approximately 85pc of specified illness claims and 58pc of life cover claims being for one of these.

Yesterday’s figures came as a report from Oxford University political economist David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, an assistant professor of medicine and an epidemiologist at Stanford University, said austerity was seriously bad for health.

The researchers added that austerity was having a devastating effect on health in Europe and North America, driving suicide, depression and infectious diseases and reducing access to medicines and care.

Overall increase

Still, Bank of Ireland’s Damian Smith said the overall increase in claims reflected an increase in the number of insured people, rather than a decline in customer health.

Bank of Ireland’s figures show there were wide differences in the pattern of claims across the country.

In Kilkenny, the volume of claims increased by 43pc, the biggest increase in any county.

Kildare saw an increase of 32pc, while claims were up 20pc in Cork and 10pc in Dublin.

However claims fell over the same period in Kerry – down by over a third, and in Limerick – down by almost a quarter.

There was an 8pc increase in sales over the last 12 months, he said.

The average life cover claim paid out was €68,000 last year. Almost two-thirds of claims for life cover were for males.

And almost half of claims are made in the first 10 years of a policy.

At 44pc, nearly half of all claims against income protection policies were by people under 40 and 13pc were by people in their 20s.

Claims for specified illness cover are more likely to be made by men, and a narrow majority of all illness claims are made by those aged 50 or over