News | Published June 02 2020

Statistics regulator criticises government use of Covid-19 test figures

The government has come under fire from the UK Statistics Authority over its presentation of data concerning Covid-19 testing.

The watchdog’s chairman, Sir David Norgrove, wrote to health secretary Matt Hancock, saying: "The aim seems to be to show the largest possible number of tests, even at the expense of understanding. It is also hard to believe the statistics work to support the testing programme itself. The statistics and analysis serve neither purpose well."

He added that the way the government is presenting the data offers limited value in helping understand the pandemic and that the information it is providing is “far from complete.”

The criticism comes after Hancock announced over the weekend that the UK had exceeded a government target to reach testing capacity of 200,000 per day by the end of May.

The government has defended its use of data, with a spokesperson saying that the government’s approach on testing data throughout the pandemic had been centred around “increasing transparency” of its response to the crisis.

Although testing capacity is over 200,000, roughly 115,000 tests were actually conducted in the 24 hours prior to 09:00 BST on Sunday June 31.

The headline total of tests put forward by the government combined the number of tests that were carried out with the number of tests posted out. The data does not account for tests posted out which are confirmed or unconfirmed to have been taken.

It is also unclear how many people were tested, given that an individual may need to take a test more than once to yield a positive or negative outcome. The government has “temporarily paused” its reporting of these numbers.

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
June 02 2020

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