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Covid-19: Hancock is urged to make testing strategy clearer

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m1922 (Published 13 May 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m1922

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  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. The BMJ

The UK Statistics Authority has urged the government to make its data on the national covid-19 testing strategy clearer.

In a letter to the secretary of state for health and social care for England, Matt Hancock, sent on 11 May, David Norgrove, the authority’s chair, wrote, “We urge Government to update the covid-19 national testing strategy to show more clearly how targets are being defined, measured and reported.”1

Last month the government pledged to carry out 100 000 tests for covid-19 each day in England.2 On 6 May the prime minister increased this pledge to 200 000 tests a day by the end of May.3

In his letter Norgrove said, “For the sake of clarity and confidence it is important that the target and its context should be set out.” He said that the government needed to clarify whether the target was intended to reflect testing capacity, tests that have been administered, test results received, or the number of people tested.

He called for further breakdown of daily test data to provide more context, such as showing the levels of testing by geographical area. He also highlighted the lack of detail concerning the nature and types of testing.

“It is hard to navigate to the best source of information,” said Norgrove. “It would support trustworthiness for the testing data to be more straightforward to find, with detailed breakdowns and richer commentary.”

Responding to the letter, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said, “We successfully hit our target to deliver 100 000 tests a day by the end of April and are committed to increasing our capacity to 200 000 a day across our whole testing programme so we can give tests to even more people that need one.

“The government has been open and transparent in the way we are presenting data about coronavirus, including testing statistics.”

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