Covid Scotland: Up to four times higher mortality rate in most deprived areas

Working age adults in the most deprived areas of England were almost four times higher to die from Covid-19 than in the wealthiest areas, a landmark study has found.

A nurse checking on a patient suffering with Covid-19 on the critical care unit.
A nurse checking on a patient suffering with Covid-19 on the critical care unit.

The Covid-19 mortality rate was 3.7 times higher in those under 65 living in the poorest 10 per cent of neighbourhoods in England compared to the wealthiest, a nine month inquiry from non-profit the Health Foundation has found.

This effect is likely to be similar across Scotland, said senior research fellow on the inquiry Mehrunisha Suleman.

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“We know people in more deprived areas across the UK have poorer underlying health, as well as socio-economic circumstances which means they have fewer opportunities for good health,” she said.

“Unfortunately that means it's likely that this trend would be applicable across the UK."

Ms Suleman added: “Because of the historic poor life expectancy and prevailing inequalities in Scotland, a lot of the lessons from the inquiry, though UK wide, are applicable.”

Ms Suleman called for action on tackling health inequalities, which were present before the pandemic, in the wake of the crisis.

“It would be really good if people do pick up that message and it's something that can be translated into policy and action.”

Certain groups saw “disproportionate” exposure to the virus and deaths as a result.

These included older people, people from ethnic minority communities, disabled people and people working in certain occupations, including some key worker roles.

Among workers, men in roles such as security guards, care workers and taxi drivers were more likely to die from the virus.

The report found the UK had the fourth highest excess deaths per population of OECD countries during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the first wave, the rate of excess deaths in the UK was only exceeded by Spain, Mexico and the UK among the 33 OECD countries.

Excess deaths for people younger than 65 were the second highest in Europe after Bulgaria.

The “single biggest factor” influencing the effect of Covid-19 across different countries was the timing of lockdowns coming into force, the authors found.

This created a difference across nations in the UK, with the easing and imposing of restrictions done on different timescales beyond the first UK-wide order to stay at home.

“The first lockdown had a UK-wide implication, but as restrictions lifted and there was variation in terms of circuit breakers, more devolved decision making, and more regional tiered restriction levels, there was an impact on infection rates and mortality,” said Ms Suleman.

"It is likely that the differing restrictions did impact both the number of infections, as well as hospitalizations,” she said.

The effect of these differences may be taken into further work by the Health Foundation on Covid-19.

The report adds: “Experiences of Covid-19 have varied across the UK, from one nation to the next and between different regions within nations.

"England had the highest excess deaths during the first wave. In the second wave, the rates were more similar across the four nations except for Northern Ireland, which had a slightly lower level of excess deaths.”

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