INVERCLYDE gained the unwanted status of coronavirus capital of Scotland probably 'by chance', a major report into the district's COVID-19 death rate has concluded.

Chronic levels of urban deprivation and higher than average elderly population figures have today been all but ruled out as to why fatalities here reached three-times the national average.

The NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde report declares that the 'most likely' explanation for the excess deaths is that the pandemic 'took hold earlier in Inverclyde' compared with elsewhere.

Louise Long, chief officer of Inverclyde Health & Social Care Partnership (HSCP), said: "It seems unlikely that age, sex and deprivation explain the pattern of COVID-19 deaths in Inverclyde in comparison with NHS GGC."

The study — which included input from Inverclyde Council, Inverclyde HSCP, Public Health Scotland and National Records of Scotland — examined a range of hypotheses regarding age, deprivation and 'an earlier date of sustained transmission' and applied different tests to data collected during the pandemic.

Report authors John O'Dowd, NHS GGC clinical director, and John Burton, public health information manager, say that it appears Inverclyde was just unlucky early on in the health emergency.

They also acknowledge that socio-economic deprivation 'has a profound effect on COVID-19 related illness and death'.

The report says: "It can be seen that both hospitalisations and deaths from COVID-19 are significantly higher in those living in the poorest circumstances in comparison with those in the most affluent areas."

But it adds: "This analysis is challenging to perform at a partnership level due to the smaller numbers involved."

Mr O'Dowd and Mr Burton state: "In the early part of the pandemic, the SMR [standardised mortality ratio] for Inverclyde is far higher than that of NHS GGC but the difference at this point was not statistically significant in comparison with NHS GGC rates.

"We can therefore see that with standardisation for age, sex and deprivation, whilst a higher mortality rate remains, the difference may have arisen by chance."

Deaths related to COVID-19 were first reported in Inverclyde in the last week in March, when three fatalities were recorded.

The new report reveals that the weekly death rate peaked in the week beginning April 6, with 32 people losing their lives.

A total of 112 people have died in Inverclyde due to coronavirus.

Analysis of all available information for the report shows that there was an earlier rise in Inverclyde compared with other areas.

In their findings the authors state: "It is considered likely that the rates were much higher than recorded due to testing criteria and availability early in the pandemic."

One conclusion drawn from the study to support the theory of coronavirus taking hold earlier in Inverclyde is that: "There is some evidence that the COVID-19 positive testing rate was higher in Inverclyde than in other areas."

The report adds: "The most likely scenario which explains the excess deaths in Inverclyde is that the pandemic took hold earlier in Inverclyde in comparison with other areas of Scotland and NHS GGC.

"This fits with the higher positive rates of COVID-19 testing in Inverclyde, and with the higher admission rates of patients with COVID-19 in Inverclyde.

"This most likely reflects the early nature of the pandemic experience in Inverclyde, and a greater propensity to admit cases where there was no experience of their clinical needs at an early stage of the pandemic.

"There is no evidence that the quality of care or access to care was worse in Inverclyde, as the admission rates were higher than across the rest of NHS GGC, and there was no difference in the death rates from those in Inverclyde admitted with COVID-19 in comparison with NHS GGC as a whole."