COVID pandemic left northern England with higher death rates and longer lockdowns

People in the north of England were more likely to die from COVID-19, spent longer in lockdown, and were made poorer than the rest of the country, a new report states.

The Northern Health Science Alliance – which includes universities and NHS Trusts – commissioned the study to establish the impact of the pandemic on the region.

Academics used government statistics to show how the North East, North West, and Yorkshire and the Humber compared to the rest of England.

What the report found

  • People in the north had a 17% higher mortality rate
  • Care home mortality was 24% higher in the north
  • Compared to the rest of England, 10% more hospital beds were occupied by COVID patients
  • People in the north spent an average of 41 more days in lockdown
  • Wages fell in the north, while rising in the rest of the country
  • The unemployment rate in the north was 19% higher than the rest of England
  • The north had a larger drop in mental wellbeing and a greater rise in antidepressant prescriptions

According to the report, roughly half of the increased mortality rate from COVID in the north was explained by “potentially preventable deprivation and worse pre-pandemic health”.

Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “This is an important report and I hope everyone in Westminster and Whitehall will take the time to read it. The long-standing neglect of communities across the north left them more exposed to the pandemic, and those deep-seated inequalities have only got worse over the past 18 months.

“Now that the worst of the pandemic is hopefully behind us, the government needs to recognise the toll COVID has taken here – especially when it comes to its levelling up plans. We are ready to work in partnership with them to make levelling up a reality, but they now need to turn their words into action.

“When ministers come to Manchester for their conference next month they need to demonstrate how they are going to tackle the issues that left the north so vulnerable to the pandemic. We have plans for better jobs, better homes, and London-style public transport, and we need the government to back them.”

More on Covid-19

The report also made suggestions to improve the system in the north.

What the report suggested

  • Targeted vaccine programmes for vulnerable populations
  • Increase mental health provision for NHS and local authorities
  • Increase capacity in northern hospitals
  • Make health a key part of “levelling up”
  • Increase child benefit, and maintain and increase £1,000 universal credit rise
  • More funding for northern NHS trusts
  • Create northern “Health for Life” centres

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Dr Luke Munford, a lecturer in health economics at Manchester University, said: “The pandemic has hit us all hard in different ways, but our report shows that people living in the north were much more likely to be hardest hit, both in terms of health and wealth.

“The fact that over half of the increased COVID-19 mortality and two-thirds of all-cause mortality was potentially preventable should be a real wake-up call.

“We need to invest in the health of people living in the north to ensure they are able to recover from the devastating impacts of the pandemic.”

Clare Bambra, professor of public health at Newcastle University, said: “Our report shows how regional health inequalities before COVID have resulted in an unequal pandemic, with higher rates of ill health, death and despair in the north.

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“The economic impact of the lockdown is also looking likely to exacerbate the regional economic divide.

“The government’s levelling up agenda needs to seriously address health inequalities in the north, for all generations.”

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