Published: 06:00, 01 July 2020
| Updated: 20:29, 01 July 2020
More people are dying with coronavirus in east Kent’s hospitals than anywhere else in England - with health bosses blaming a late second peak.
Kristina Curtis reports
All are run by the East Kent Hospitals Trust, which has reported 21 Covid-19 deaths in the last seven days – almost double that of any other trust in the country.
Just one other, in Warwickshire, recorded more than 10 deaths, with 12.
The figures are in stark contrast to other trusts in Kent, with two people dying in Medway over the same period and no deaths recorded at hospitals in either Dartford and Gravesham or Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells.
Hospital bosses blame a "second, late" peak of the virus at the end of May, while Boris Johnson has said help has been offered to authorities in Ashford, which has the second highest infection rate in the country.
Speaking on Times Radio about the handling of the pandemic, the Prime Minister said: "The crucial thing is to make sure we're ready to crack down on local flare-ups, and that's why we've got whack-a-mole strategies, and why you're seeing the steps taken in Leicester, the things we've done in places like Ashford and Weston-super-Mare.
"Where you have a local flare-up, you have to empower local authorities to crack down on it properly."
Ashford's William Harvey Hospital is one of three major acute sites run by the East Kent Hospitals Trust; the others are the Kent and Canterbury and the QEQM in Margate.
The trust also operates the Buckland in Dover and the Royal Victoria in Folkestone.
At the peak of the virus – when 5,435 people died in a single week in hospitals across the country– deaths in east Kent accounted for 1% of the national total.
This week that ratio stands at 10.8%.
While deaths in England have dramatically decreased over the last two months, the decline in East Kent has not been as sharp.
During the peak of the virus, 56 people died in East Kent in the week leading up to April 13, and 54 in Dartford and Gravesham.
Last week there were 21 deaths in East Kent, but none at all in Dartford and Gravesham.
The hospitals trust says a second peak at the end of May, coupled with the area's larger elderly population, is responsible.
In the third week of May, cases rose in four areas of east Kent, accounting for 71% of the 347 positive tests in the county's 13 districts.
Almost a quarter were recorded in Ashford.
A spokesman for East Kent Hospitals said: “East Kent saw a second, late peak of Covid cases in comparison with many other areas of the country, with high numbers of Covid positive patients in late May, particularly at William Harvey Hospital, Ashford.
“The population of east Kent is significantly older and with more co-morbidities than the England average, which means it is vulnerable to becoming acutely unwell with Covid-19.
"The number of Covid positive patients is coming down, with the highest numbers remaining at William Harvey Hospital."
Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield says questions will need to be answered about the high number of deaths.
'The lesson for all of us is to remain very, very careful when we reach the next stage of lockdown this weekend...'
"The death data this week for east Kent is sobering and a timely reminder that we are nowhere near the end of the pandemic and that this is not a time for complacency," she said.
"Many people will be wondering why the current local death rate is so high; as we learn more and get through this pandemic these, and many other questions, will need answers from local health authorities and from government."
Ashford MP Damian Green is concerned by the new revelations, but is positive his borough's number of infections is much lower than earlier in the pandemic.
He said: "It's obviously very worrying that this number of deaths are occurring in east Kent hospitals.
"The only consolation is that the incidents of Covid-19 infections is falling in Ashford and is much smaller now than it was in previous weeks.
"The lesson for all of us is to remain very, very careful when we reach the next stage of lockdown this weekend.
"Everyone - particularly in Ashford - must continue to use their common sense and not abuse any freedoms we'll have from Saturday.
"It's important everywhere and especially in our area because the virus was so widespread at the beginning of this."
East Kent Hospitals Trust has been asked what help has been offered by the government.