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Coronavirus death rate twice as high in Scotland’s deprived areas

Image credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images

Coronavirus death rate twice as high in Scotland’s deprived areas

People living in Scotland’s most deprived areas are more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than those in the least deprived areas and almost one third of deaths involve people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, new National Records of Scotland (NRS) figures reveal.

The NRS publishes weekly statistics on deaths registered in Scotland where COVID-19 was mentioned in their death certificate, and the latest figures showed between 4 and 10 May there were 415 deaths, a drop of 110 from the previous week, with a total of 3,213 deaths involving the virus as of 10 May.

This represented the second weekly reduction in deaths involving COVID-19 in a row. The NRS found deaths involving COVID-19 as a proportion of all deaths rose by 16 per cent from 30 March to 5 April, then to 36 per cent 20 to 26 April, but fell to 29 per cent from 4 to 10 May.

For the first time, additional analysis was published on the impact that deprivation has on COVID-19 mortality. This showed people living in deprived parts of Scotland were 2.3 times more likely to die with the virus, than those in less deprived areas.

Additionally, the statistics showed 91 per cent of people who died of COVID-19 in April had “at least one pre-existing condition”, with the most common conditions found to be dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, at 31 per cent of all deaths involving COVID, followed by ischaemic heart disease at 13 per cent.

The statistics again showed that more than half of all registered deaths involving the virus occurred in care homes – at 57 per cent – however this had fallen from 60 per cent in the previous week.

Three quarters of registered deaths involving COVID-19 were people aged 75 or over, with age-standardised death rates almost 50 per cent higher for men than for women (716 vs 479 per 100,000 population for deaths occurring in April).

A separate analysis from ISD Scotland of positive coronavirus cases in Scotland showed 61 per cent of cases up to 11 May were women, and 39 per cent were men, out of the 13,627 confirmed cases up to that date. There was no gender data in 33 cases.

During First Minister’s Questions, Nicola Sturgeon said the figures offered “sustained signs of hope”.

“The number of COVID-related deaths, although far too high, has fallen for a second week in a row. The number of deaths in care homes has also reduced for a second week. And the number of excess deaths is less than half the level it was at three weeks ago,” she said.

“That doesn't mean we can relax yet. There are still too many cases. The reproduction rate of the virus is still higher than we would like and we continue to learn more about those most vulnerable to the disease. Speaking as a human being, I deeply regret every single death from this virus. All of us are in that position.”

Responding to the figures on deprived areas, Joseph Rowntree Foundation associate director for Scotland Jim McCormick said: “It can never be right that someone's life chances are so profoundly affected by where they live or how much money their family has.”

“It’s crucial that all aspects of the spread of this virus are carefully examined, but we know that people in areas with higher deprivation scores are less likely to have jobs where they can work from home. This means they may have to face a very significant drop in income or keep going to work, facing greater risks of catching virus. They are also more likely to live in overcrowded homes, increasing the risk for whole families. This just is not right,” he said.

“As well as dealing with the current crisis, it is vital to break the grip of poverty on the health of the nation in the long term. This means rethinking how we treat the lowest paid members of our society who have sustained us and kept us safe during this crisis. By doing so, we can help end the spiral of low income and poor health which may have had especially tragic consequences during this pandemic.”

NRS director of statistical services Pete Whitehouse said the aim of the figures was to provide “information that is as useful as possible and adds value to the understanding of how the virus is spreading throughout the country”.

“Every death from this virus is a tragedy. These statistics, alongside the other important evidence being made available by the Scottish Government and Health Protection Scotland, are valuable to the understanding of the progress and impact of the COVID-19 virus across Scotland,” he said.

“We will continue to review and develop these statistics as new information is made available.”

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