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UK Statistics Authority calls for better data on Covid-19 testing

The body’s chair says data on Covid-19 tests is ‘still far from complete and comprehensible’

The chair of the UK Statistics Authority has called for changes to the way data on Covid-19 testing are collected and published.

In a 2 June letter addressed to the secretary of state for health and social care, Matt Hancock, David Norgrove said the data on Covid-19 tests was “still far from complete and comprehensible” and fell “well short” of expectations set out in the Code of Practice for Statistics.

“It is not surprising that, given their inadequacy, data on testing are so widely criticised and often mistrusted,” Norgrove added.

He highlighted several issues in relation to the way data are currently presented, such as the inclusion of posted tests in the total number of tests.

He also highlighted that people may be tested more than once while reports suggest that swabs carried out simultaneously on a single patient are counted as multiple tests.

“Figures for the overall number of people being tested have previously been published but are not available in the published time series,” said Norgrove.

He also called for the inclusion of key types of employment, age, sex and location in the test results.

In addition, a statement of the key metrics to measure the success of the government’s tests and trace programme should be “developed systematically, and published”, he said.

“The statistics will need to be capable of being related to the wider testing data and readily understood by the public, through for example population adjusted maps of hotspots.”