IN-DEPTH analysis will be undertaken by health bosses in Barnsley in a bid to understand - and better prevent - rocketing rates of premature deaths which have been recorded over the Covid-19 pandemic.
A report, set to be discussed by councillors on Barnsley’s overview and scrutiny panel on Tuesday, will delve into the period from March 2020 to June 2022.
The analysis - which will follow next week’s meeting - will be put towards the UK’s independent Covid-19 inquiry which examines councils’ and the government’s collective responsiveness to the pandemic.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show the borough recorded a total of 1,133 more deaths between March 2020 and June 2022 than the five-year average would suggest.
It shows 19.4 per cent more people died than expected in the timeframe - meaning the town has an excess death rate well above the 11.1 per cent average across England and Wales.
Barnsley Council public health leaders including Carrie Abbott, Rebecca Clarke and Emma Robinson will offer evidence to councillors, as will the NHS South Yorkshire Integrated Care Board’s Jamie Wike and Joe Minton, and Dr Andy Snell from Barnsley Hospital.
The report said: “The term ‘excess deaths’ refers to the number of deaths that are above the number we would normally expect to see.
“National evidence suggests that in England a proportion of non-Covid excess deaths may be a result of health needs not being met being, for example not being diagnosed or treated, during the pandemic.
“Management of chronic disease has been impacted during this period - patients require regular disease management and close follow-ups to reduce the risks of poor health outcomes.
“This could be because of several reasons: unprecedented health system pressures, the contingencies put in place for pandemic control, or because of reduced social interaction through the national lockdowns and the impact on individuals’ support networks.
“The findings of this report will be shared with partners to highlight the issues raised and strengthen approaches to protect and improve the health of the Barnsley population.
“Barnsley entered the pandemic with a population more vulnerable to infection due to existing health and economic factors.
“These include an older population with high rates of pre-existing illnesses.
“We have a higher prevalence of harmful behaviours and high rates of deprivation with around 40 per cent of our population living in the 20 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods in the country.
“We also have a higher proportion of people in residential care and higher rates of certain working conditions, such as highly populated indoor workspaces and key worker populations.
“Each of these factors can increase the risk of vulnerability to Covid-19.”
Barnsley’s excess death rate of 19.4 per cent is higher than the Yorkshire and Humber average of 11 per cent and higher than all other South Yorkshire local authority areas including Sheffield’s 9.2 per cent, 14.3 per cent in Doncaster and Rotherham’s 14.8 per cent.
The panel of health leaders will also be asked which areas could be improved on, and what has been learned from the pandemic - dubbed a ‘once-in-a-generation’ event which stretched healthcare services to the brink.
The report added: “If we exclude Covid-19 as a cause of death, the rate falls to four per cent however even at the rate, Barnsley is higher than the figures for Yorkshire and Humberside and England.
“However, we have also seen higher levels of non-Covid excess deaths in comparison to regional and national averages.
“It is likely that there are other secondary impacts of the pandemic, including reduced access to health services which has led to a reduction in numbers of people seeking and receiving health care from GPs, accident and emergency, and other health care services for non-Covid conditions.
“Emerging evidence post pandemic also points to higher levels of ‘harmful behaviours’ in 2020, including increased levels of smoking and alcohol use.
“Identifying changes in the leading causes of death at a local level is complex due to the way that deaths are recorded and would require more detailed analysis.
“It may also be useful to include a period beyond the pandemic for comparison and to identify any emerging impacts of current challenges such as the cost-of-living crisis.
“We have included a recommendation to undertake further analysis.”