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Iran Press TV

Health secretary blasted for 'misleading' presentation of testing numbers

Iran Press TV

Thursday, 04 June 2020 5:26 PM

The government was savaged by the UK's statistics watchdog chair, Sir David Norgrove, in a blistering letter to health secretary Matt Hancok earlier this week, accusing him of "misleading" the public by including tests mailed to home addresses and NHS locations - which might never be used - in the tally announced at the daily Downing Street coronavirus briefing.

In an unprecedented move, Downing Street released a breakdown of the figures today which show that out of 171,829 tests announced for the 24 hours to 9am on Wednesday, some 60,209 were sent out in the post.

Sir David, asserted combining figures for home-testing kits, tests performed by NHS labs and drive-through centres meant that the figures had "limited value" in helping the public and clinicians understand the progress of the outbreak.

He asserted: "The aim seems to be to show the largest possible number of tests, even at the expense of understanding."

He went on to criticise the failure to give details of the numbers of people tested rather than the number of tests conducted. Many of those tested are swabbed more than once, with each counted as a separate test, potentially hugely inflating the final figure.

The PM's official spokesperson told reporters that Wednesday's testing figure included 38,163 conducted in NHS, Public Health England and devolved administration labs, 34,526 at commercially-operated drive-through centres and mobile labs and 2,918 as part of an academic surveillance programme, while 60,209 involved kits mailed out to home addresses or NHS "satellite" centres away from the main labs. A further 36,013 antibody tests were conducted to see whether key workers had previously had the disease.

Downing Street had set a target of 200,000 daily tests by the end of May but this has so far only been reached in terms of capacity (220,213 at present) rather than actual tests performed.

A vital part of the government's exit strategy from lockdown is coronavirus testing as it allows the contacts of those known to have the disease to be identified and told to self-isolate for 14 days to avoid spreading the infection further. However, a significant number of home-testing kits are believed to have gone unused or to have been used incorrectly, reducing the total number of tests completed.

A batch of 67,000 tests sent to the US for processing had to be retaken after being bungled by a commercial lab, Downing Street has confirmed.

The PM's spokesman explained that tests were sometimes sent overseas for processing if there was not sufficient capacity in the UK at the time. Around 29,500 of the test were returned "void".

"Everyone affected was offered a new test immediately and the lab in the US has not been used for further surge capacity since," he said.

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