As Yorkshire's Covid death toll passes 10,000, this is why Rotherham's mortality rate is nearly three times higher than Selby's
Yorkshire and the Humber has seen more than 10,000 Covid-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic, with some areas of the region hit nearly three times as hard as others.
Analysis for The Yorkshire Post shows that the mortality rate from coronavirus is 2.6 times higher in Rotherham than in Selby, prompting fears the pandemic has entrenched existing health inequalities in the region.
Three areas of the region, Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield, have seen more than 1,000 deaths where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, according to Office for National Statistics data.
But when population size is taken into account, a clear geographical pattern emerges. Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster in South Yorkshire, officially classed as one of the poorest regions in northern Europe, have the highest death rates at more than 200 per 100,000 population, while Selby and Ryedale in more affluent North Yorkshire have rates of under 100.
Colin Angus, a senior research fellow at the University of Sheffield who looked at regional data in Yorkshire for this newspaper, said deaths related to Covid appeared to hit deprived populations in just as unequal a way as other causes of death.
He said: "So it's probably more accurate to say that COVID has entrenched existing inequalities in mortality than exacerbated it.
"It is almost certain, however, that if you look to outcomes beyond mortality, that the pandemic and its wider effects, on physical and mental health, the economy and certainly the impact on children of school closures, will be felt much more acutely in the most deprived parts of society.
"These are all things which it's hard to get data on, at least at the moment. Which is partly why we focus on outcomes like cases and deaths, which we can easily quantify.
"But it's important that we don't lose sight of the huge cumulative burden that the pandemic has placed on those in society who are the least well placed to shoulder it, and if the Government don't take action to address this inequality then it's likely the shadow of the pandemic on the UK's most deprived communities will be a very long and dark one."
As of January 15, the latest date for which data is available, 10,112 deaths with Covid mentioned on the death certificate had occurred in Yorkshire and the Humber. Ryedale saw the fewest deaths at 57 with the city of Leeds seeing 1,351.
Attempting to explain some of the variances across the region, Mr Angus said some of it will be random as the nature of the virus means tiny differences could be "all that matters between an outbreak fizzling out before it starts and really taking hold somewhere."
Levels of deprivation partly explain the differences, but also the age of the population is important because of the increased risk of dying from coronavirus the older people get. This, Mr Angus says, is why the affluent areas of Craven and the East Riding of Yorkshire fare badly but Hull, the poorest area of the region, ranks lower for mortality rate.
He said: "Craven and the East Riding have comparatively old populations, while Hull is very young. So this could explain at least part of why those areas have fared differently to what you might expect based on deprivation alone.
"In general, more deprived areas have fewer older people in them than less deprived areas, because brutally, life expectancy is shorter. So these two influences - high deprivation and older populations generally pull in opposite directions. The areas that are really high risk are those which have both."
Chris Read, the leader of Rotherham council, says his borough's death toll of 690 is "grim", adding: "Of course behind each number is a family, a group of friends and real life that’s been taken from us."
He believes the high local death rate could be linked to the way the local population moves and the work they do as well as age and deprivation. Around half of Rotherham’s workforce cannot work from home because of the nature of their jobs in services, care and logistics.
He said: "That’s also one of the reasons that we’re trialling our local self-isolation payments now, to try to better support people who have been advised to stay at home but who might not otherwise be supported by the national system for financial payments.
"Conversely, we fortunately don’t seem to have seen the disproportionate impact on our minority ethnic communities which was one of the scary early consequences of the virus elsewhere."
Coun Read, a Labour councillor, says that the other side of the tragedy, which has seen more than 100,000 lives lost since the first Covid case was found in York in January, 2020, was the way people have "pulled together locally".
He said: "Hundreds of volunteers signed up to our ‘Rotherham Heroes’ supporting thousands of vulnerable or elderly residents across the borough. I suspect the UN would have been impressed with the organisation that has met the needs of local people, getting food to those who couldn’t get to the shops or who had literally run out of money."
Further north in Craven, Conservative leader of the district council Richard Foster noticed a similar phenomenon, whether it was a local school team in Skipton delivering prescriptions and vaccinations or volunteers cleaning up the River Wharfe after it was besieged by visitors.
He said: "I have always thought we have great community spirit here in Yorkshire but the way people have pulled together to look after one another has been truly fantastic. As local authorities we have been fantastically supported by our staff but we couldn't have coped without the kindness and generosity of the public."
In Sheffield, where the Covid-19 death toll has passed 1,000, city council leader Bob Johnson said: “Every death associated with Covid-19 is one death too many and reaching 1,000 deaths is a terrible and tragic milestone for Sheffield. This deadly disease has brought heartbreak and pain to so many and I want to send my deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one since the start of this pandemic.
“There is still a long way to go until we can safely resume normality, and with that, more people will sadly lose their lives. However, Sheffield is making exceptional headway with vaccinations, so there is hope and I believe that hope carries a lot of weight amongst all of us.
"When the time is right, we will be able to see our loved ones again and give them a hug, which I personally cannot wait for, but until that time we must continue to follow the guidance. Staying at home and playing our part to reduce the spread of this virus is in itself a great tribute to all those lives lost.
"I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone in this city as individuals, business owners, key workers, for the sacrifices you have made and continue to make every day because each small act has an impact.”