Friday, 25 Sep 2020

Government quietly drops 1.3 million tests off its total due to double counting

More than 1.3 million coronavirus tests have been quietly removed from the Government’s data because of double counting.

In an update on Wednesday it said ‘an adjustment of -1,308,071 has been made to the historic data for the “tests made available” metric’.

That was the ‘result of more accurate data collection and reporting processes recently being adopted within pillar 2’ – involving tests that take place outside hospitals, such as swab tests carried out at drive-through centres and care homes – and a ‘subsequent recalibration’ of data reported between March 29 and August 11.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said there had been ‘a double-counting of test kits that had been dispatched’ which had not been removed from the lab’s processed data.

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Shadow health minister Justin Madders told the Guardian that data on testing had been ‘shambolic’ for months.

He added: ‘To now retrospectively adjust the testing figures by 1.3 million overnight – without explanation – is the latest in a long line of chaotic failings by the government on testing.

‘How can we be confident that testing and tracing is working properly when basic data on the number of tests is obviously so flawed? Ministers need to get a grip of this as a matter of urgency.’

The DHSC said the issue does not affect other published statistics in relation to the pandemic.

A spokesperson said: ‘In July we became aware of an over-counting issue which we publicly and transparently acknowledged and have since sought to clarify these figures subsequently.

‘This does not change the fact that we have rapidly built, from scratch, the largest diagnostic testing industry in British history, with over 13 million tests delivered, and capacity to test 300,000 every day.’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock was forced to defend the Government’s approach to counting daily coronavirus tests back in June after the UK’s statistics watchdog criticised the data as inadequate.

He said the way the figures were presented was ‘the best that we can’, adding that the Government’s method was the ‘simplest way of presenting a very complex picture’.

It came after UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) chairman Sir David Norgrove criticised the way the figures were being presented at the daily briefings, with the headline total including both tests carried out and those which have been posted to recipients but not yet conducted.

He said: ‘It is not surprising that given their inadequacy data on testing are so widely criticised and often mistrusted.

‘The way the data are analysed and presented currently gives them limited value for the first purpose.

‘The aim seems to be to show the largest possible number of tests, even at the expense of understanding.’

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