Edward Morgan, from the ONS’s health analysis and life events division, said the first half of 2020 saw “extraordinary increases” in mortality rates across western Europe, when compared with the average over the past five years.
“While none of the four UK nations had a peak mortality level as high as Spain or the worst-hit local areas of Spain and Italy, excess mortality was geographically widespread throughout the UK during the pandemic, whereas it was more geographically localised in most countries of Western Europe.
“Combined with the relatively slow downward ‘tail’ of the pandemic in the UK, this meant that, by the end of May, England had seen the highest overall relative excess mortality out of all the European countries compared.”
Using the measure of excess deaths to calculate the impact of the pandemic means results are not affected by the different ways countries record Covid-19 deaths.
The figures showed that every local authority area in the UK experienced excess mortality between the weeks ending April 3 and May 8, while other countries in Western Europe experienced more localised excess deaths.
However, England had four areas in the top 20 worst impacted: the London boroughs of Ealing, Enfield and Brent and Thurrock in Essex.
Brent was the worst affected area in England, experiencing the highest peak excess mortality, 357.5 per cent in the week ending April 17.
The area with the highest peak mortality rate in Europe was Bergamo, Italy, with 847.7 per cent in the week ending March 20.
When comparing major cities, the highest peak excess mortality was in Madrid, which saw levels of excess mortality in the week ending March 27 that were several times higher (432.7 per cent) than the average expected mortality rate in 2015 to 2019.
In the UK, Birmingham was the city with the highest peak excess mortality (249.7 per cent in the week ending April 17), followed by London (226.7 per cent in the week ending April 17), and Manchester (198.4 per cent in the week ending April 17).
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.
“Over the past decade, life expectancy improvements in the UK have lagged behind our European peers.
“With the worst coronavirus death toll in Europe, there is a very real risk that the UK will slide even further down the life expectancy league tables.
“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.”
The ONS has however pointed out that many of the countries in the top spots shared similar demographics, such as large urban populations and high levels of elderly people.
England also has the second highest population density in Europe, with only the Netherlands having more people per square mile. However, England has an older population than the Netherlands.