Socialist Health Association commentary on the COVID 19 pandemic

This is now the 8th weekly Blog published by the Socialist Health Association (SHA) commenting on how the Coronavirus pandemic is progressing both locally and globally. The lens we use is a socialist worldview where we aspire to One World and Planetary Health and are as concerned to reduce global as well as local health inequalities. The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on local inequalities within the UK as well as stark global inequalities where people find themselves exposed and unable to follow the advice we receive in the UK and other rich countries to social distance and pursue rigorous hand hygiene.
 
Health inequalities in the UK
 
Last week the Office of National Statistics (ONS) published a report on Covid-19 deaths by local area and by socioeconomic deprivation (www.ons.gov.uk). This covered the period from the 1st March to the 17th April. During this period there were 90,232 deaths in E&W and of these deaths 20,283 involved Covid-19.
 
Unsurprisingly London had the highest age-standardised mortality rate with 85.7 deaths/100,000 people involving Covid-19. This is significantly higher than any other region and almost double the next highest rate. In these SHA Blogs, one of our observations has been that London was the early hotspot and should have been shutdown much sooner and been our ‘Wuhan’. Remember all the press reports of bars and restaurants remaining open and people packed into London underground trains and buses?
 
In London Covid-19 deaths were 4,950 amounting to 42% of deaths since the beginning of March compared to 1,051 deaths in the South West region of England, which was only 13% of total deaths there. The eleven Local Authorities with the highest mortality rates were all London boroughs with Newham, Brent and Hackney suffering the highest rates. Outside London rates are high in Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester.
 
Newham has the highest age standardised death rate with 144.3 deaths /100,000 population followed by Brent with 141.5 and Hackney with 127.4. In Newham 78% of its population are in BAME groups and 48% live in poverty after rent and household income are taken account of. The three London boroughs are in the most deprived group and across England the most deprived areas have a death rate of 55.1/100,000 compared with 25.3 in the least deprived (118% difference).
 
The Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) is an overall measure based on income, employment, health, education, crime, the living environment and access to housing within an area. Each area of England is grouped into one of ten deciles and the most deprived is in d1 and least deprived in d10. As we know from work over the last 40 years since the Black report in 1980 – there is a social gradient for mortality and many other indicators of health and wellbeing.  Covid-19 has magnified the difference especially for those in the three most deprived deciles which shows a stark difference between Covid-19 deaths and all deaths. In the least deprived decile the mortality rate for all deaths was 122 deaths/100,000 population, whereas in the most deprived it was 229. The difference between all deaths (classic social gradient) was 88% whereas between Covid-19 deaths the difference was 118%, which is 30% higher.
 
A similar picture emerges in Wales where they present the data as differently. The most deprived fifth of areas have a rate of 44.6 deaths per 100,000 involving Covid-19; this was almost twice as high as the least deprived area with 23.2 deaths/100,000.
 
The other key finding from the ONS report was on urban versus rural areas. Major urban conurbations had a death rate of 64.3/100,000, which is statistically significantly higher than other categories including urban minor conurbations. The lowest rates unsurprisingly are in rural settings with rates as low as 9/100,000 population. There is a category ONS use called ‘major towns and cities’ in E&W which are built up areas excluding London. Of the 111 major towns and cities the highest mortality rate was in Salford with a rate of 112.6 deaths compared to Norwich with 4.9/100,00. One interesting prosperous market town that was hard hit is Cheltenham with a death rate of 49/100,00, which is significantly higher than the English average!

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