Covid-19 update: An open letter to Minister for Health and Public Health England

Dear Mr Hancock/Mr Selbie,

Recent statistics released by Public Health England saw Barrow-in-Furness, in Cumbria, listed as having the highest Covid-19 infection rate in the country - at 882.2 people per 100,000 population.

We are deeply concerned about the implications of the infection rates on the health and well being of our residents, both in terms of their exposure to the virus and ongoing anxiety about how safe the borough is for them.

This data, as I’m sure you’re aware, has placed significant national, negatively-focused media attention upon Barrow, accompanied by a range of inexpert speculations on what the contributory factors may have been. 

The data available at a public level is two dimensional at this point. It provides no context, no crucial information to inform or reassure. It has not been adjusted by demographics, comorbidities - such as our higher than average rate of chronic respiratory disease and high indicators of deprivation - nor does it consider the fact that Cumbria was further ahead of the curve when the outbreak began.

Indeed, it fails to take into account our smaller population of 67,000 people, which make statistics for the borough susceptible to disproportionate increases and decreases when scaling up is required. 

There is, without doubt, learning here that will be valuable at both a local and a national level.

This is why we are calling upon the government to carry out a detailed investigation into Barrow’s high infection rate. 

For instance, we know that our local acute health trust; the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Hospitals Trust, began testing earlier and more extensively than almost any other part of the country.

This was a positive and proactive step that will certainly have contributed to the higher rate of infection attributed to Barrow. 

However, we need to know whether other factors were at play too - and to what extent. Without this deeper dive into the statistics, we cannot take the latest infection rate figures at face value. Data without expert interpretation has the potential to be a dangerous thing.

There should be a thorough analysis of the factors that may have contributed to the published figures so our communities can be assured we are on the right path towards a safe, strong and resilient recovery.

If this analysis shows underlying or contributory factors are adversely impacting upon our residents, we would welcome support from the government to address these as lockdown eases. This will help us to reassure our communities that all agencies are doing everything they can to support and protect them if a further outbreak occurs in the area.

At the moment, the limited scope of Public Health England’s figures has heaped deep worry upon our residents, businesses and communities in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak - a pandemic that continues to pose the greatest threat to public health in all of our lifetimes. 

We would be grateful for a swift response to this matter.


Councillor Ann Thomson, Leader of Barrow Borough Council

Councillor Lee Roberts, Deputy Leader of Barrow Borough Council

Sam Plum, Chief Executive of Barrow Borough Council