Great Britain

Wirral could be one of worst-hit areas for coronavirus

Wirral could be hit harder than almost any other place in the country by coronavirus.

The research, undertaken by the Centre for Progressive Policy, looked at confirmed cases of Covid-19, healthy life expectancy, the size of the older population, the usual rate of death from treatable conditions, and the quality of care available.

Julie Webster, Wirral’s director of public health, explained why the borough was particularly vulnerable to the virus.

Referring to the factors looked at in the study, she said: “These are indicators for which the Wirral baseline was already poor and therefore inevitably affects our ranking and that of our neighbouring authorities.

“This has also been observed internationally with countries with older people, people living in poor health, developing economies and challenged health and care systems experiencing significant excess deaths.”

Excess deaths will not just be the result of the Covid-19 virus, but from other conditions that stretched health services will be less able to treat.

The number of confirmed cases differs substantially from place to place and different areas will be better or worse equipped to deal with any surge in cases through local infrastructure such as hospitals and care homes.

This study looked at the most recently available data before it was published, which showed there were 292 confirmed cases of Covid-19 for every 100,000 people in Wirral as of April 28.

That figure has now risen to over 370 confirmed cases per 100,000 people in the borough and on Wednesday Wirral hit the terrible milestone of 200 coronavirus deaths registered in its hospitals.

The report also takes into account healthy life expectancy.

In Wirral this stands at 61 years old.

This means that while a newborn baby can expect to live far beyond 61, they can only expect to live in good health until 61 years of age.

As well as this, some 22% of the borough’s population are over the age of 65 and the area saw 97 deaths from treatable conditions for every 100,000 people between 2016 and 2018.

Finally, just 2% of adult social care providers in Wirral were rated as outstanding, 72% as good, 22% as requiring improvement and 5% as inadequate.

But Ms Webster said the extent of Wirral’s vulnerability may be exaggerated in the report.

She said: “The selection of indicators is important, as alternative indicators such as prevalence of heart disease or profiling our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities would give us a very different ranking for example, and those factors appear to be just as important to Covid-19, and it could be argued, are more specific to Covid-19 than Healthy Life Expectancy figures.”

Ms Webster added that the report drew attention to long-term issues of deprivation in the borough, rather than the performance of the local healthcare system itself.

She said: “This report does not reflect the work we have done in response to Covid-19, but rather the systemic, existing issues already facing the borough acknowledging that areas with poorest health outcomes will be affected worst by the virus.”

Ms Webster insisted the answer to Wirral’s problems lay in support to deal with its social and economic challenges.

She added: “This report echoes therefore the established evidence that the health, and other outcomes we see within the borough are intrinsically linked to the economic and demographic makeup of Wirral and the variation within it.

“It also supports our efforts to improving the social and economic factors that influence the healthy life expectancy of people living within the borough and the need for additional support to boost progress.”

Referencing the report in a letter to the government, Birkenhead MP Mick Whitley said this support should start with the cancellation of the £84bn debt that councils across the country owe and the full reimbursement of all additional expenditure Wirral Council has incurred as a result of the pandemic.

Going forward, Mr Whitley said a realistic increase in central government funding to councils based on poverty, deprivation and need in their area must happen.

He criticised the latest tranche of government funding to councils which paid too little attention to these factors in his opinion, in favour of simply allocating funds based on the population of each given area.

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