Pete Weatherby KC highlights concerns about Covid-19 testing figures and public trust

10 October 2023

Pete Weatherby KC today drew attention to criticisms of the presentation of testing statistics by the UK Government during the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the evidence of Professor Sir lan Diamond, National Statistician at the UK Statistics Authority, Pete directed the attention of the Inquiry to a letter from 2 June 2020 – Sir David Norgrove response to Matt Hancock regarding the Government’s COVID-19 testing data.

The letter was written in the context of Mr Hancock’s testing targets of 100,000 tests per day by end of April 2020 and 200,000 tests per day by end of May 2020.

In the letter Sir David says that the Government’s presentation of the testing statistics meant that the figures were ‘far from complete and comprehensible’.

The letter outlines two main purposes of publishing testing data as being:

  1. To help understanding of the epidemic, alongside the ONS survey, showing how many people are infected, or not, and their relevant characteristics.
  2. To help manage the test programme, to ensure there are enough tests, that they are carried out or sent where they are needed and that they are being used as effectively as possible.

Pete highlighted the fact that Sir David felt the Government figures had ‘limited value for the first purpose’. And that ‘the statistics and analysis serve neither purpose well.’ Sir David also noticed that the aim of the reported figures ‘seems to be to show the largest possible number of tests, even at the expense of understanding’.

Pete told the Inquiry that Sir David felt that the presentation of the figures gave an ‘artificially low impression of the proportion of tests returning a positive diagnosis’ because the figures were reached by adding together tests carried out and tests posted out but described ‘misleadingly’ as solely the number of tests carried out.

Pete concluded by reading some of the latter passages from the letter: ‘…the testing statistics still fall well short of [the Code of Practice for Statistics] expectations. It is not surprising that given their inadequacy data on testing are so widely criticised and often mistrusted.’

‘…I am sure you would agree that good evidence, trusted by the public, is essential to success in containing the virus.’

Pete Weatherby KC and Anna Morris KC lead the team representing the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice UK group in Module 2 of the Inquiry, which includes GCN’s Christian Weaver, Kate StoneCiara BartlamMira Hammad and Lily Lewis. Also on the team are Garden Court Chambers tenants Allison Munroe KC (Modules 1 and 3) and Thalia Maragh, Jesse Nicholls from Matrix Chambers, Oliver Lewis from Doughty Street Chambers and Tom Jones from Deka Chambers. The team is instructed by Elkan Abrahamson, Nicola Brook, and Emma Beckett, Broudie Jackson Canter

Watch the hearings via the UK Covid-19 Inquiry YouTube channel, including a live stream.

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