Government quietly publishes figures which reveal it overstated number of people tested


The government was routinely overstating the total number of people who had been tested for COVID-19 by as many as 200,000 at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, according to new Sky News analysis.

It follows a Sky News investigation into irregularities in how testing data was collected and compiled in the face of the outbreak.

In the wake of that story, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) published data showing the total number of people tested for the disease since January. It’s the first time such data has been released since the second half of May.

The revised data shows that the daily numbers provided at the time alongside the government’s press conferences significantly overstated the number of people who had been tested for coronavirus.

For instance on 21 May, alongside the press conference given that day by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the DHSC said that the number who had been tested had reached 2.06 million.

The new data, posted quietly on the DHSC website yesterday, shows that by that stage only 1.6 million had been tested in England.

Put alongside existing data from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the new, revised UK total is 1.8 million – around 200,000 short of the declared numbers in May.

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On a weekly basis the numbers announced by government at the time were overstating the number of people being tested each week by around 20,000 – according to this newly-revised data.

On 23 May the government stopped publishing testing data, which has been unavailable for England since then.

It is the latest evidence of problems the UK has faced with double counting and data difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Many remain concerned about the reliability of UK data, though in recent weeks the DHSC has begun to publish regular updates on how many people have been tested for the disease, and has attempted to follow the official statistics code of conduct.

It has also reduced its estimate of the number of cases in the UK following further double counting.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic we’ve been completely transparent about the data we collect and publish, and are always looking to improve our statistics – including on testing.

“We have worked with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Office for Statistics Regulation on our new approach to these publications and will continue to work closely with them as we develop these figures.

“We have rapidly built, from scratch, a large-scale testing programme and can now provide a test to anybody who needs one. Over 11 million tests have been delivered so far and we have the capacity to carry out more than 300,000 tests per day – helping to curb the spread of the virus and save lives.”

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