Pre-existing health issues contributing to Southend’s high number of COVID-19 deaths

Almost half of all coronavirus patients treated in Southend have died, government figures have revealed.

Figures published by the government as of Monday, show that there have been 251 cases of Covid-19 and of those 114 have died – a mortality rate of 45 per cent.

However, when looking at the mortality rate for the whole of the East of England, there has been 7,732 cases but just 1,636 deaths or 21 per cent.

Health authorities have said they are yet to begin looking at demographics and the reasons why some areas are more impacted than others.

However, a health assessment carried out by the council last year revealed the town already had higher rates of “premature and preventable mortality” than the rest of the East of England and almost 25 per cent of those deaths were related to “preventable respiratory disease”.

Across the eastern region the mortality rate for preventable respiratory illnesses was just 15 per cent.

The report goes on to say this is due to “key lifestyle factors” in Southend, including more than 18 per cent of residents being smokers – four per cent higher than the rest of the eastern region.

Last month, health secretary Matt Hancock said it was “abundantly clear that smoking makes the impact of a coronavirus worse”.

Furthermore, around a quarter of Southend adults were reported to be “physically inactive”, while the Centre for Perioperative Care has said regular exercise will improve the body’s ability to recover from the virus.

Councillor Trevor Harp (Ind), who oversees health in Southend, said these factors have “without a doubt” played a part in the numbers.

“We do have an older age profile here in Southend so obviously we have a higher number of people in the ‘at risk’ category and we have a lot of people with respiratory illnesses and this virus attacks the respiratory system,” said Mr Harp.

“I think there is also the issue of testing and a potential disparity between who is tested and the number of deaths.”

He added that he expects once the pandemic has come to an end there will be a full analysis of what had happened.

Southend Council’s deputy leader, Cllr Ron Woodley, along with council leader Ian Gilbert have speculated whether another reason for the high mortality rate is the way the figures are being recorded.

“When I see the numbers and I look at the number of cases and the number of deaths I do think it is very high and I question if it is right,” said Mr Woodley

“However, while every death in the hospital is a tragedy we have to ask if this is including people who live in places like Rochford and Castle Point as well and if so we may be looking at a disproportionate number here.

“But until that is clarified, and that may not be until the end of the pandemic, we may never know.”

Mr Gilbert added: “Not all of those who pass away from COVID-19 at Southend Hospital will live within Southend, so the number of reported deaths actually reflects a wider geographic area than Southend proper.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter