Devon had expected up to 6,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic but the total number is in fact 336, councillors have been told.

Devon County Council leader Dr Phil Norrey said the county had done well but might have seen even fewer deaths if 'we knew what we know now'. Picture: DCCDevon County Council leader Dr Phil Norrey said the county had done well but might have seen even fewer deaths if 'we knew what we know now'. Picture: DCC

The latest ONS figures for Covid-related deaths up to June 5 are 196 for Devon, with 84 for Plymouth and 56 for Torbay.

In Devon, of those, 91 occurred in care homes, 91 in hospital and 14 in private homes.

Devon County Council’s health and adult care scrutiny committee on Tuesday, June 16 heard it had been one of the least hit areas by coronavirus, with the number of incidents of the disease ranking them 146th out of 150 upper tier authorities.

The county is also one of five that have had significantly fewer deaths in care homes than expected and no health or care workers have died as a result of coronavirus, according to the report.

Only two care homes in the area are currently dealing with a Covid-19 outbreak.

As of June 4, the latest data in the report, there were just 12 patients in hospital with Covid-19, only two of whom were in critical care beds. It is now believed that as of Tuesday, there were just two patients in hospital, according to Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw.

Deaths were ‘avoidable’

But council chief executive Dr Phil Norrey admitted that some of the deaths probably were avoidable if the council knew what it knows about coronavirus when the outbreak began.

He said: “We are right at the bottom of incidence of coronavirus, and we have had in relative terms low incidents in care homes, and are one of five authorities that has had significantly fewer deaths in care homes than would have been expected given the incidents in the community – about half what would have been expected given the community infection rates.

“We have had fewer incidents and less deaths pro rata than others, and I’m not commenting on what has happened nationally, but we have done relatively well.”

Care home ‘scandal’

Dr Cathy Gardner, chairman of East Devon District Council, said it was scandal that half of all recorded Covid-19 deaths in Devon have been in care homes.

She is suing the Government following the death of her father from probable COVID-19 in an Oxfordshire care home, and her case accusing the government of unlawfully exposing thousands of care home residents to serious harm, has been filed at the High Court.

Her statement said: “Here in Devon, we may have had a lower number of Covid-19 deaths than elsewhere, but it’s still a scandal that we had ANY deaths in care homes.

“Some of these were people who were infected when patients were discharged from hospital, without any regard for the consequences. Around the country, some patients were discharged to care homes with proven COVID, others had not even been tested.

“Care homes should be relaxed, secure places – they shouldn’t be used for treatment and recuperation of people with highly infectious diseases. It is not difficult to isolate care homes to protect residents. Regular testing of staff is essential, including agency workers.

“What is being done to ensure that care home residents are protected NOW and in the future so that no more Covid-19 infected people are moved into care homes? This virus is not going away anytime soon but we can protect the most vulnerable in our society if we want to.”

First wave ‘peaked in April’

A report from Dr Virginia Pearson, Director of Public Health Devon, to the meeting said that peak of fatalities in Devon in this first wave of infection occurred in the week ending April 17 – which was the peak in both hospital and care home settings.

Lab-confirmed infections appeared to peak in early April, although with small subsequent rises coinciding with increases in testing capacity and availability, with only one day in the last month was more than 10 cases in a day confirmed with the overwhelming majority of days seeing single figure new cases confirmed.

She added: “The number of acute hospital beds occupied by Covid-19 patients across Devon peaked at 210 in mid-April, with a maximum of 39 people in Critical Care (HDU/ITU) beds. Covid-19 admissions rose sharply from late March to mid-April and have reduced more slowly as the infection rate fell.”

“During the first wave of COVID-19 infections in Devon the acute system has operated within the capacity identified to treat COVID-19 positive patients. Given the low prevalence of COVID-19 infection in Devon, if the R-number is kept below 1 we can expect infections in the community to fade.”

Although Devon is a ‘beacon council’ for the new track and trace system, the meeting heard that the system was not fully yet up and running and is not likely to be until the end of the month.

Dr Norrey said: “We hope that incidence remain at a very low level so we have the opportunity for the response to be effective. As the data gets better, we can see where the outbreaks in Devon are and deal with them. The incidence will hopefully be relatively low, and while they are low, there is the best chance of success.”