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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

'Lies, damned lies and statistics'

The UK government has put its Covid-19 testing target centre stage in the fight to eradicate the virus, but is everything what it seems? In particular, with testing for coronavirus a vital component of the test, trace and isolate strategy is the government meeting its targets?

On May 6, the prime minister announced a target of 200,000 Covid-19 tests per day by the end of this month, which followed the target set by Matt Hancock, the health secretary, of 100,000 a day by the end of last month. According to Public Health England and the Department for Health and Social Care the government has so far reached this lower target nine times since Mr Hancock set it on 2nd April.

According to the Times, not everything is as it seems. They say that the number the government uses against its target is a count of tests rather than people tested, though they also publish figures for the number of people tested. Figures for May 20, for example, show 128,000 tests but just 67,000 people tested:

On Thursday the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England confirmed to The Daily Telegraph that diagnostic tests, which involve taking saliva and nasal samples from the same patient, are being counted as two tests instead of one.

This followed earlier revelations that the figure for total tests included those put in the post that day, either to individuals’ homes or to testing sites not run by the NHS.

The Department of Health and Social Care said that when the returned tests were processed they were not included in the total for that day, meaning they were not counted twice. But numbers for how many tests make it back to the lab are not released either, and if the government wants to provide information that is valuable to the scientific community and wider public, these figures really matter.

So far more than 700,000 tests have been posted out in this way and the public have no idea what the success rate is.

The Royal Statistical Society, which has set up a task force to contribute to statistics on Covid-19, issued a statement on the reporting of home test kits, saying they “consider it important that, as part of the easing of lockdown, there should be regular, rigorous public reporting on the performance of the UK’s home-swab-test operation.”

It is little wonder that people are calling for more transparency, and the UK Statistics Authority want the government's strategy to show more clearly how targets are being defined, measured and reported.

At the moment it is virtually impossible to hold the government to account on its promises. That does not aid understanding or accountability and needs to be put right.
My brother's partner was involved a car accident earlier in the month. As well as routine alcohol and drugs tests she was given a Covid-19 test. All three were negative. But we have to ask, was her C-19 test included in the statistics, even though there was nothing to suspect that she was infected and she was told that it's "routine these days" ?
Hancock achieved his target by dubious means and 'just' got there but claimed success.Johnson is just raising the stakes.Lies, damned lies and statistics .Fiddling the results. Get the 200,000 once by 're-arranging' the statistics by that date he will claim he has achieved his target. Makes him look good.
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