LONDON (Reuters) – The British statistics watchdog chided the government on Tuesday for publishing data about the corona virus test which he said was “far from complete and understandable”.
One year six students were examined by a staff member at St John’s Elementary School when several children returned to school when the coronavirus lockout (COVID-19) subsided in Fulham, West London, England, June 2, 2020. REUTERS / Kevin Coombs
“The aim seems to be to show the greatest number of tests possible, even at the expense of understanding,” David Norgrove, head of the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), wrote in a letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
“It’s also hard to believe that statistics serve to support the testing program itself.”
Critics from independent UKSA are likely to add questions about the handling of a government pandemic that has killed nearly 50,000 people in the UK, according to the latest data.
Concerns over test data were first revealed when the government set ambitious targets to conduct 100,000 tests per day at the end of April – the goals it said were met.
But in doing so, it is included in a test of numbers sent to people but not necessarily completed.
“This difference is too often ignored during presentations at daily press conferences, where relevant figures can be erroneously explained only as the number of tests carried out,” Norgrove said.
The health ministry was not immediately available to comment on Norgrove’s letter. Norgrove said it was encouraging that health ministry officials worked with regulators to improve their statistics.
But he was clear that they could not be accepted in their current form and that mistakes should not be repeated in the data for the new test-and-trace system, he said, which requires clear metrics for success.
Hancock, in an earlier letter to Norgrove on May 27, said he strongly supports transparent and high-quality data.
“I think it’s important to show how good, high-quality data can be used to drive our response to this virus, and to build trust and trust in our numbers as we do so,” Hancock wrote.
In his response, Norgrove said he welcomed Hancock’s support for high-quality data.
“But testing statistics are still far from expectations,” Norgrove said.
“It’s not surprising that given their inability to test data so much was criticized and often not trusted.”
Reporting by Andy Bruce; editing by Guy Faulconbridge
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