FRESH calls have been made for a review of coronavirus deaths in County Durham’s care homes.

According to official figures, the county has suffered the highest rates of mortality in residential care settings of anywhere in the North-East.

But local authority bosses have repeatedly resisted demands for a probe into the statistics, insisting instead on waiting for a national inquiry to be held.

“There’s some excellent work proposed [reviewing the] financing of care homes,” said opposition Liberal Democrat county councillor Mark Wilkes.

“But I still don’t see anything anywhere for any committee, or the council, to be reviewing what’s happened over the last 12 months relating to Covid.

“We think – we hope – we’re through this pandemic, but we don’t know what’s going to come down the line and I don’t understand why, as an authority, we’re [investigating] so we can learn from mistakes, if there were any.”

Cllr Wilkes was speaking at Monday morning’s meeting of Durham County Council’s corporate overview and scrutiny management board, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.

According to the local authority’s own figures, up to April 13 there had been 575 coronavirus-related deaths recorded in the county’s care homes – a rate of 109.4 per 1,000 care home beds.

This was the highest rate in the North-East and just 0.4 ahead of neighbouring Darlington.

Calls for a countywide review have been raised several times through the council’s scrutiny committees and also at the December (2020) meeting of the full county council.

All requests for an investigation, which have been partly prompted by an Amnesty International report in October (2020) claiming ten County Durham care homes accepted Covid-positive patients at the height of the pandemic in exchange for a funding boost, have so far been refused.

Responding, Cllr Rob Crute, the panel’s chairman, said: “We don’t know whether we’re through [the pandemic] or not.

“I think the right time and the right place for any review would be at a national level. And that seems to be the general consensus I’ve picked up.

“When the government does decide to hold a review into Covid-19, and specifically what’s happening in care homes, then this council will take part in that and I believe that’s been the general consensus.”