‘Red flag for help’ - fears over virus death toll in worst-hit part of county
PUBLISHED: 17:57 22 May 2020 | UPDATED: 17:57 22 May 2020
Victoria Pertusa/Denise Bradley
Residents feel like “second class citizens” in the area of Norfolk worst-hit by the coronavirus outbreak, it has been claimed.
Councillors in West Norfolk have written to the area’s two MPs, demanding urgent measures to understand why the district’s death toll was so much higher than the rest of the county.
West Norfolk has had over 100 deaths from Covid-19 since the pandemic began - almost ten times that of Norwich and more than three times that of South Norfolk.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures for deaths across the county’s districts are: Breckland - 58; Broadland - 39; Yarmouth - 32; West Norfolk - 101; North Norfolk - 33; Norwich - 11; and South Norfolk - 31.
A councillor said the area had been “disproportionately” hit and described the letter as “putting up a red flag for help”.
The independent councillors open letter, to James Wild and Liz Truss, described “comparatively high infection and death rates from the Covid-19 virus, in King’s Lynn and west Norfolk” and asked “whether the testing resources in this area were adequate and/or had been applied appropriately”.
It adds: “Nothing seems to have been done by government, and nothing substantial by the clinical commissioning group or county council to understand why.”
And the councillors called for “a more intensive testing regime and to be at the forefront of the roll-out of track and trace.”
Chris Morley, district councillor for Bircham, said: “Norfolk hasn’t suffered to the same degree.
“But West Norfolk has been hit disproportionately and nobody seems to want to understand why.”
He said that care homes had struggled to get tested locally, in the early days of the virus, and added: “The battle isn’t won yet.”
“We feel almost like second-class citizens in the county and that’s not right,” he said.
“We’re looking for a further injection of support and testing.
“We want our name put forward when programmes are being considered for testing.
Something needs to be done. We are putting up a red flag for help.”
Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk’s public health director, said: “We are aware of the high number of cases reported in West Norfolk and our analysts are reviewing the available data.
“Several factors, including the age distribution of the population, and the fact the first cases in Norfolk were reported in the district, giving the virus longer to spread, may have contributed to these numbers.
“It is important to stress that the rate of Covid-19 there is significantly lower than the average in England when accounting for the demographics.
“We are also reassured that the percentage of care home settings in West Norfolk reporting outbreaks are consistent with the average across Norfolk, showing no greater risk to residents than elsewhere in our county.”
Ms Truss, MP for South West Norfolk, said the issue was “obviously a concern” and she had raised the matter with the CCG and Department for Health, but a full investigation would take time with “many variables”.
The Conservative MP added: “Within care homes action is being taken to protect both residents and staff with testing and PPE an absolute priority.
“Public Health England is also monitoring outbreaks in care homes to ensure providers get the support they need. And by using a combination of local resources and laboratory capacity, we now have testing available across the county including in Kings Lynn.
“This is in addition to mobile testing units run by the military, home testing kits, regional drive through sites, and the soon-to-be launched track and trace system.”
Mr Wild, North West Norfolk MP, added: “Figures for mortality and infection rates in West Norfolk compared to other parts of the county are concerning.
“That’s why I highlighted the difference in the data and asked Public Health. Understandably, people want to know the reasons but this is a complex area and it is right to get expert analysis.”
The Conservative MP said there had been “huge effort” to increase testing and that he was urging for unused capacity in Norfolk to be made available elsewhere.
While a spokesman for the CCG said concerns were “fully understood” with extra mobile testing sites being arranged.
He added: “We continue to review where are the best places to site mobile testing units.
“A testing centre for workers at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital has been in place for many weeks.
“Testing in care homes has been in place for both staff and residents for many weeks across West Norfolk.
“Tests have been carried out in 61 care homes in West Norfolk since March, so far.
‘Nothing seems to have been done’ - an open letter to Liz Truss and James Wild
On May 2 and 3, a member of our independent group of councillors highlighted to you both the comparatively high infection and death rates from the Covid-19 virus in the King’s Lynn and West Norfolk district and questioned whether the testing resources in this area were adequate and/or had been applied appropriately.
Since then, it has become increasingly apparent that the death rate in this district has remained much higher than in the rest of Norfolk.
The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics accentuate this position and are cause for real disquiet.
Whilst you have both expressed concern, nothing seems to have been done by the government, and nothing substantial by the county council or clinical commissioning group to understand why this is the case, either through data analysis, “follow the science”, or testing.
You have the position, responsibility and resources to analyse the predicament your constituents are facing.
We are asking that you use all your means to identify the core issues behind this terrible situation.
As a minimum, we need to have a more intensive testing regime and to be at the forefront of the roll-out of track and trace.
If you have acted appropriately since this letter was written, thank you.
Otherwise, please, will you do something?
From Terry Parish, group leader, and the independent group of councillors at Kings Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council.