By Dominic Harrison: director of public health, Blackburn with Darwen Council

PENNINE Lancashire’s prospects as we move towards summer are looking better every week.

However, to ‘build back better’ in any post-Covid recovery, we will have to move quickly out of the pandemic's shadow. To do that we will need ‘fair shares’ of any central government funding injected to stimulate the economy - one that reflects the disproportionate pandemic burdens we have carried for the country over the last twelve months.

The good news now is that the rates of Covid-19 across Pennine Lancashire continue to decline. On April 20, Blackburn with Darwen was down to a rate of 26.1 per 100,000 of the population with a positivity rate at 1.4 per cent. We expect that rates may rise slowly from this point, as the effects of lockdown lifting and increased social contact feeds through into transmission rates. However, at the moment we think these rates will rise only slowly and should not generate any immediate risks of further local lockdowns.

The North-West region has been harder hit by the Covid Pandemic than the UK as a whole and so has Pennine Lancashire. The North West has the highest regional cumulative Covid-19 rate in the UK. It is twice that of the South-West Region. Covid case and death rates have been about 20 per cent higher in the North-West than the national average.

Five of the 16 Local Authority areas in the Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS footprint have had cumulative rates in the highest five per cent of all local authorities - Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley and Pendle had the first, third and sixth highest cumulative Covid-19 rates in the UK since the start of the pandemic. Only three of the 16 Local Authority areas in Lancashire and South Cumbria had cumulative Covid rates within the lowest 50 per cent of local authority areas.

People in more deprived areas of the North-West have already been less able to access healthcare services during the pandemic due to higher Covid demand on those services. The North-West saw the largest reductions in non-urgent elective care (31 per cent) of all English regions due to higher Covid-19 rates.

The Office of National Statistics estimates that one in ten people who test positive for COvid19 may still experience symptoms 12 weeks post infection some of which may prevent them working. On this estimate, up to 33,000 people in Lancashire and South Cumbria may have such long Covid symptoms. Treating these will compound existing recovery pressures on NHS and local authority social care services.

This amplification of health inequalities and NHS and social care demand means that there is much to catch up on and catching-up will be critical in getting all those affected by the pandemic- fit, healthy and ready for work.

Without additional funding to meet this increased demand, both health and economic inequalities will continue to be a drag on the regional and local economic recovery.

To ‘build back better’, additional new investment is the only way we will create equal life chances for all as we exit the pandemic.