At last our Country tops a league table. Unfortunately, it is for the number of excess deaths in the lockdown period caused by the coronavirus.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I have longed argued that we need to be using a wider definition of deaths caused by the pandemic than that announced on a daily basis by the Government in terms of hospital deaths and updated weekly by the Office of National Statistics to record community and care home deaths.
The excess deaths figures sets the total number of deaths recorded against the five year seasonal average for the same period. It is the way that pandemic strength is usually measured because it is far more accurate than Covid figures alone. This year the seasonal average should have gone down because of our exceptional weather. Common sense and medical science tells us that when the weather is nice less people get ill. That is not the pattern for this year. Four weeks ago recorded deaths for Coronavirus only accounted for 75% of the excess deaths so what caused the other 25% (approximately 300 deaths in the case of te Liverpool City Region).
The answer is, in all probability, the coronavirus! In the early days of the pandemic and lock down GPs were unwilling to sign off deaths as Coronavirus deaths in cases where they could see neither the patient nor the body. Thus many deaths were recorded as due to pneumonia. Then after many people had been buried or cremated we discovered that some other deaths, notably by strokes mainly for younger people had not recorded the virus as the underlying cause because only [pneumonia like symptoms were being recorded.
Lastly, the virus and the fear of it has allowed deaths to happen for a wide range of causes that would otherwise be prevented. The ambulance crews were reporting a far higher number of people being recorded as dead when they arrived than normal. The reasonable assumption is that people were either scared to go to hospital or did not want to trouble the NHS in a time of crisis.
All these things add up and present a picture of ill health as created by the virus. The other virtue of this figure is that it cannot be abused politically. The ONS is an independent body which tots up all deaths and their causes on a regular basis with a regular system. It also is likely to give a much better representation of what is happening globally than CV figures in many Countries.
For example the Spanish CV death figure does not include deaths in care homes. We have all seen the pictures that many people dies there. Some Countries have unbelievably low death rates as a ration to cases. Russia is a case in point. The problem with international comparisons, however, is that we don’t all collect statistics the same way and some countries do not collect them (or publish them) at all.
But the table above shows that in comparison to every other European Country and the USA (our best comparators) we have the highest excess death rates. That has direct implications for how we come out of the lockdown.
This links to the other problem our bungling government has got. The test and trace mechanism. They have based their idea of a return to work and a return to school on 1st June on a system using an app which is not in place and using a call centre system where the staff are unskilled and untrained for the specific purposes required here. This system is supposed to come into place today but it isn’t in any meaningful sense of the word. The app, being trialled on the Isle of Wight, was supposed to be ready mid-May now it may (or may not) be mid-June.
Last Friday, in desperation, the Government turned to the people who have experience in these matters. Local councils and our Public Health teams. We have the expertise to do this with trained people in place accustomed to following up infectious diseases on a regular basis. Such expertise is needed regularly in small outbreaks, such as food poisoning albeit not the huge one we are preparing for.
With a few days’ notice our Public Health departments are expanding their work using a £300,000,000 fund from the Government. Councils will get things in place but they are not in place yet.
All this means decisions for schools, employers, business owners and, most importantly of all the public whose confidence in Government policies and programmes has been severely weakened by the Cummings affair and the buffoonery of Johnson.
No matter what the Government may say you can do you must ask yourself what you should do given that there is no trace and track in place. Should you go to the hairdresser, should you go back to a potentially unsafe workplace; should your send your kids to school? All these decisions involve a number of individual parameters which must be weighed against each other. There are growing mental health issues; there are growing economic issues for the Country; firms and staff; there are issues relating to problems caused permanently to children by the lack of education.
We must all come to our own conclusions based on our own circumstances. Those conclusions are not being helped by the pathetic posturing of the Government. The citizens of the UK both need and deserve hard facts backed by scientists and clear messaging from their Government. Regrettably that all looks far too difficult for this bunch of jackasses and nonentities currently filling the ministerial ranks of Her Majesty’s Government.
I am writing this not only as a Liverpool Councillor but also as the Lib Dem Lead on Health & Social Care at the Local Government Association