Berkshire experienced over twice as many deaths as normal during the worst period of the coronavirus crisis, new analysis reveals.
The King’s Fund think tank said the coronavirus has exposed the “widening health divide” in the UK, after Office for National Statistics figures revealed every part of the country had seen an increase in deaths.
The number of excess deaths in Berkshire hit a peak in the week ending April 17, with 134 per cent more deaths than the average for the previous five years.
Overall, the area had more deaths than usual in 13 of the 15 weeks between March 6 and June 12.
The ONS compared the all-cause mortality of 23 European countries, taking account of age differences in the population.
It found by the end of May, England had the highest levels of excess mortality in Europe, at 8 per cent above normal – ahead of Spain (7 per cent) and Scotland (5 per cent).
Excess death figures are seen as the most accurate way of measuring the effect of the crisis as they are not affected by the different ways countries record Covid-19 deaths.
The ONS said the first half of 2020 saw “extraordinary increases” in mortality rates across Western Europe, but added deaths were less concentrated in the UK than with the hotspots seen in other nations.
The charity the Health Foundation said this more uniform spread of the virus could explain why Covid-19 has taken such a “huge and deadly toll” on the country, although it also questioned whether the timing of the lockdown had been a factor.
Charles Tallack, assistant director of the Health Foundation’s research arm the REAL Centre, said we must understand how and why the UK differs from its neighbours ahead of a potential second wave.
He said: “Areas for investigation should include what proportion of the population were infected before lockdown began, whether lockdown measures were introduced quickly enough, and how effective lockdown has been in preventing the spread of the virus through the population.
“And finally, we need to understand the impact of prioritising Covid-19 patients and how this has affected health care for non-Covid-19 patients.”
The figures show Berkshire had the sixth highest rate of excess mortality at its peak out of the South East’s 21 areas.
Regions in Spain, Italy and England made up the top 20 areas across Europe with the highest recorded peak mortality rates, with the highest in Bergamo, Italy – 848 per cent above normal in the week ending March 20.
Brent was the worst affected area in England – 358 per cent in the week ending April 17 – but it was joined by two other London boroughs – Enfield and Ealing – and Thurrock, in Essex.
Dr Veena Raleigh, senior fellow at The King’s Fund, said the pandemic has exposed “the wide and widening health divide” in the UK population.
She said: “Over the past decade, life expectancy improvements in the UK have lagged behind our European peers.
“The priority for the UK is to control the pandemic and learn lessons ahead of a potential second wave, but it is also essential to tackle the underlying reasons for stalling life expectancy in recent years – many of which contribute to poor Covid-19 outcomes.”
A Government spokeswoman said: “This is an unprecedented global pandemic and our understanding of its impact on different countries and societies will improve as we learn more.
“At all stages we have been guided by the latest scientific advice, and the action we have taken has allowed us to protect the vulnerable and ensure the NHS was not overwhelmed, even at the virus’ peak.”