East Renfrewshire was part of one of the worst affected areas in Scotland during height of pandemic

Inverclyde, East Renfrewshire and Renfrewshire experienced one of the biggest surges in excess deaths in Scotland during the worst point of its coronavirus infection, with over twice as many deaths as normal at its peak.

The number of excess deaths in Inverclyde, East Renfrewshire and Renfrewshire hit a peak in the week ending April 17, with 124 per cent more deaths than the average for the previous five years.

The King’s Fund think tank said the coronavirus has exposed the “widening health divide” in the UK, after Office for National Statistics figures revealed every part of the country had seen an increase in deaths.

The number of excess deaths in Inverclyde, East Renfrewshire and Renfrewshire hit a peak in the week ending April 17, with 124 per cent more deaths than the average for the previous five years.

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That was one of the highest peaks seen at any point in the pandemic in Scotland.

Overall, the area had more deaths than usual in 10 of the 15 weeks between March 6 and June 12.

The ONS compared the all-cause mortality of 23 European countries, taking account of age differences in the population.

It found by the end of May, Scotland had the third highest levels of excess mortality in Europe, at 5 per cent above normal – behind only England (8 per cent) and Spain (7 per cent).

Excess death figures are seen as the most accurate way of measuring the effect of the crisis as they are not affected by the different ways countries record Covid-19 deaths.

The ONS said the first half of 2020 saw “extraordinary increases” in mortality rates across Western Europe, but added deaths were less concentrated in the UK than with the hotspots seen in other nations.

The charity the Health Foundation said this more uniform spread of the virus could explain why Covid-19 has taken such a “huge and deadly toll” on the country, although it also questioned whether the timing of the lockdown had been a factor.

Charles Tallack, assistant director of the Health Foundation’s research arm the REAL Centre, said we must understand how and why the UK differs from its neighbours ahead of a potential second wave.

He said: “Areas for investigation should include what proportion of the population were infected before lockdown began, whether lockdown measures were introduced quickly enough, and how effective lockdown has been in preventing the spread of the virus through the population.

“And finally, we need to understand the impact of prioritising Covid-19 patients and how this has affected health care for non-Covid-19 patients.”

Regions in Spain, Italy and England made up the top 20 areas across Europe with the highest recorded peak mortality rates, with the highest in Bergamo, Italy – 848 per cent above normal in the week ending March 20.

The Orkney Islands were the worst affected in Scotland – 151 per cent in the week ending April 10 – but well below Brent, in London, which was the highest in the UK, at 358 per cent.

Dr Veena Raleigh, senior fellow at The King’s Fund, said the pandemic has exposed “the wide and widening health divide” in the UK population.

She said: “Over the past decade, life expectancy improvements in the UK have lagged behind our European peers.

“The priority for the UK is to control the pandemic and learn lessons ahead of a potential second wave, but it is also essential to tackle the underlying reasons for stalling life expectancy in recent years – many of which contribute to poor Covid-19 outcomes.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “This is the greatest public health challenge we have faced in our lifetimes.

“We remain focused on suppressing Covid-19 in Scotland and at all times our actions have been guided by the best and most up to date expert scientific and medical advice.

“Work is ongoing to better understand excess deaths during the pandemic.”