Public Health England investigation into Covid-19 infection rates completed

A PROACTIVE, early testing regime in Barrow was behind a high incidence of Covid-19 infections in the borough, an official report has concluded.

Barrow Borough Council called for an in-depth investigation into high numbers of coronavirus cases found in the area during lockdown.

Now, Public Health England has completed a detailed study of the data, publishing its findings in a report released today.

Experts confirmed an extensive approach to testing by the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust - the organisation that runs Furness General Hospital - was the principal factor behind the higher than average number of infections.

In non-working age populations, the number of cases in Barrow was similar to or lower than the North West region.

The findings were welcomed by Councillor Ann Thomson, leader of Barrow Borough Council.

Cllr Thomson said: “The nationwide data released initially showed a far greater number of Covid-19 cases in Barrow than other parts of the country.

“Unfortunately, this data provided no additional information or context which was a huge concern to us all.

“We asked for an in depth investigation to look into the factors behind the figures so we could be sure the right measures were in place to protect the most vulnerable in our communities as lockdown eased.

“This investigation has now been completed and shows Barrow’s higher incidence of coronavirus was actually down to the rigorous testing regime implemented early on by our hospital trust.

“The trust led the way nationally in terms of testing and we thank them absolutely for their proactive approach to controlling the spread of the pandemic in our area.”

Cllr Thomson, along with Councillor Lee Roberts, deputy borough council leader, and chief executive Sam Plum, wrote an open letter to government health minister Matt Hancock and the head of Public Health England, Duncan Selbie, to call for an investigation into the figures following their publication in May.

Conducted by Public Health England’s North West Field Service, it covered the period March 1 to May 31.

It found diagnosis rates of Covid-19 in working age people in Barrow was more than double that in the same age group across the North West.

It was also 3.4 times higher in working age females in the borough than their male counterparts.

However, in children and young adults, the rate of infection was in line with the North West average.

In older people, it was significantly lower.

The findings confirm the difference in testing processes launched by the hospital trust - where 81 per cent of employees are female - accounts for the higher rate of infection found. 

Councillor Thomson added: “Our priority is always the health and safety of residents.

“We were not prepared to take any chances when it comes to the health and safety of our communities.

“It was essential that we instigated a thorough and detailed look behind the data to make sure our residents were not at greater risk than those in other parts of the UK.”

To view the report, please click here.