Tuesday 14 July 2020 / 10:32 AM Health / Justin Madders

Government must release better data to help councils combat coronavirus

Labour is calling on the Government to release more information to local authorities which they say will be of “vital assistance” in containing local spread of coronavirus in future.

The letter from Shadow Health Minister Justin Madders to Baroness Harding, who leads the Government’s testing and tracing programme, sets out a series of requests on testing data that they say is needed in local areas.

Justin Madders MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Minister, said:

“Councils are getting testing data which is sometimes nearly a fortnight old and has such little information in it that it is virtually useless in being able to spot and stop local outbreaks.

“We are asking that positive test results are given to councils on a daily basis, in real time if possible, and that there should be sufficient information for them to be able to identify the workplace if possible, where an outbreak has occurred.

“The Government needs to be much more open and transparent with local councils so that together we can catch local outbreaks earlier and stop transmission of the virus.”

Full text of the letter:

Dear Dido Harding,

It is now more than two weeks since the Secretary of State, Matt Hancock, announced Leicester would be the first city in the UK to be put under a local lockdown. With restrictions expected to be reviewed this week, and anticipated guidance regarding what might trigger further local lockdowns expected, I am writing to ask that the concerns being made by local authorities regarding the timing and detail of the data they receive are recognised and resolved as a matter of urgency.

Targeted local responses to coronavirus flare-ups are a key part of the Government’s plan to contain the spread of the virus and we know that the provision of complete and reliable data is essential to effectively monitor local areas and assist in that targeting. However, we are still hearing from local authorities and public health officials that there are significant gaps in the availability, quality and speed with which data is being processed and provided by the various organisations tasked with testing.

The Welsh government publishes Pillar 1 and 2 data daily, but local authorities in England are still only receiving a weekly breakdown of Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 tests, with regional data being published every two weeks. Public health officials across England have also raised concerns that even when they do receive data that it is not easily accessible, with huge amounts of testing data to decipher, and that it does not include vital details on the ethnicity, post codes or workplaces of people who have tested positive, nor the number or proportion of the number of positive tests for each local area. These gaps prevent local authorities from being able to react with speed on the ground.

Local authorities are clear: the data is not detailed enough, not accessible enough and not frequent enough.

Labour has long been calling on the government to ensure that local authority directors of public health have access to all Coronavirus test data. As you develop local guidance, I urge you to ensure moving forward that:

  1. Data is transmitted to local authorities on a daily basis, in real time if possible.
  2. There is reference to ethnicity in the data.
  3. That each positive test also identifies by name, postcode and workplace (if any) of the individual.
  4. That the proportion as well as the number of positive tests is provided.

We hope that should any future lockdowns prove necessary that any measures are agreed with the local authority before being implemented and that transparent and measurable guidance is produced which will help inform all parties the point at which lockdown measures can begin to be relaxed.

Yours sincerely,
Justin Madders MP