Downing Street today announced that the government is to stop publishing daily updates on the number of people tested for COVID-19. Weekly updates on these figures will continue, and the Department of Health and Social Care will now release a daily figure for tests processed rather than people tested.
These updates initially helped to highlight the slow expansion of testing, led to pressure on the government to increase capacity rapidly in April. With an initial target of 100,000 daily tests set for the end of that month, these statistics highlighted the late, rapid expansion of testing - although the figures have been criticised for picture of testing with tests processed initially showing a large discrepancy and concern that many front line workers were counted twice in the statistics.
Official figures currently show that one in five tests made available have not yet been processed. A significant chunk of this figure represents people who apply for home-testing kits but do not return them, but it is unclear what percentage of unprocessed tests this accounts for.
The Prime Minister's spokesman said:
“DHSC will no longer publish the number of people tested daily any more and will instead publish the number of daily tests processed.
This is because the daily ‘people tested’ statistic only counts new people being tested.
For example, someone who is tested in February and then tested again this month will only be counted once.
Considering hospital and care home staff are now being tested on a regular basis, we don’t think this statistic would be an accurate reflection of the amount of daily testing that is taking place."
Justin Madders MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, said:
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“This is an absolute shambles. It seems that the real reason why the Government stopped issuing figures for the number of people tested each day is because they never hit their 100,000 people a day target and they were too embarrassed to admit it.
“We know that the number of people actually tested is less than a third of the number of tests they state are being completed. It is clear that Ministers are losing control over the testing regime and are failing to not only keep track of the tests but to ensure the results are returned swiftly.
“Ministers need to get to grips with the state of the testing regime and be far more open about where the failings are. As lockdown measures are relaxed it is vital the public have confidence that there is an effective test and trace system in place.”