DORSET experienced substantially more deaths than normal during the worst period of the coronavirus crisis, new analysis reveals.

The King’s Fund think tank said the coronavirus has exposed the “widening health divide” in the UK, after Office for National Statistics figures revealed every part of the country had seen an increase in deaths.

The number of excess deaths in the Dorset Council area hit a peak in the week ending April 24, with 59 per cent more deaths than the average for the previous five years.

Overall, the area had more deaths than usual in 12 of the 15 weeks between March 6 and June 12.

In the BCP area the peak was in the week ending April 10 with 62 per cent more deaths. There were more deaths than usual in nine of the 15 weeks.

The ONS compared the all-cause mortality of 23 European countries, taking account of age differences in the population.

It found by the end of May, England had the highest levels of excess mortality in Europe, at eight per cent above normal – ahead of Spain (seven per cent) and Scotland (five per cent).

Excess death figures are seen as the most accurate way of measuring the effect of the crisis as they are not affected by the different ways countries record Covid-19 deaths.

The ONS said the first half of 2020 saw “extraordinary increases” in mortality rates across Western Europe, but added deaths were less concentrated in the UK than with the hotspots seen in other nations.

The charity the Health Foundation said this more uniform spread of the virus could explain why Covid-19 has taken such a “huge and deadly toll” on the country, although it also questioned whether the timing of the lockdown had been a factor.

Charles Tallack, assistant director of the Health Foundation’s research arm the REAL Centre, said we must understand how and why the UK differs from its neighbours ahead of a potential second wave.

He said: “Areas for investigation should include what proportion of the population were infected before lockdown began, whether lockdown measures were introduced quickly enough, and how effective lockdown has been in preventing the spread of the virus through the population.

“And finally, we need to understand the impact of prioritising Covid-19 patients and how this has affected health care for non-Covid-19 patients.”