Manchester mayor claims local authorities being ‘kept in the dark’ by government on coronavirus testing data

Andy Burnham says more detailed information needs to be provided with greater frequency

Credit: PA

The mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has called on government to provide better and more frequent information on coronavirus testing to local authorities after claiming they are being “kept in the dark” in their attempts to respond to the crisis at a local level. 

 A week ago, the government opened up online access to so-called pillar two testing data, which includes information of the results of tests carried out via drive- and walk-through centres and home-testing kits sent to citizens. Previously, local government and health entities only had access to pillar-one information, which covers tests undertaken in hospitals and Public Health England labs.

Burnham (pictured above), a former Labour cabinet minister who was elected in 2017 as the Greater Manchester region’s first mayor, told the Observer: “We get pillar two data once a week, on a Monday morning. But a lot can happen in seven days. So, if we’re going to manage and chase this virus down on the ground, we need the same daily data that the government gets.”

He added: “We need a new principle going forward: everything the government knows, we should know – and at the same time that they know it. Because we cannot contain this virus if people at a local level are being kept in the dark.”

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Burnham also said that local health officials are limited in how they can make use of the data as it is anonymised. This is despite health Matt Hancock in March issuing a six-month order for national and local NHS bodies to share confidential patient data in support of coronavirus response.

“[Government] also won’t provide patient-identifiable data,” Burnham told the Observer. “Our teams tell me that is crucial, but the government cites patient confidentiality. Our teams are experienced public health staff – they know how to deal with data confidentially. It’s as if the government doesn’t trust the professionals working at local level.”

The Local Government Association has also urged government to make it easier for councils to access better data.

Cllr Ian Hudspeth, chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “It is good that there will be increased transparency on testing data, with the publication of pillar two figures online. However, the new data in the dashboard does not give councils the information they need to identify specifically where in their area outbreaks are occurring in order to work locally to contain them. We continue to call for access to this smaller area data.”

He added: “Councils also need to see improvements to the individual case data that public health officials have started to receive, including making the data available for all tests and not just positive ones, adding UPRNs – property reference numbers – and providing more information about workplaces. The most important thing is that the public and those working on the frontline get a complete picture of the impact this virus has had in our neighbourhoods and in our communities, regardless of how the data is collected and where it is processed.”

It emerged last week that Deloitte, which has been contracted by the government to perform a large part of the testing regime across England, has not been asked to provide PHE and councils with information on positive tests.

“The contract with Deloitte does not require the company to report positive cases to Public Health England and local authorities,” said patient safety minister Nadine Dorries, in response to a written parliamentary question from Labour MP Stella Creasy.


Sam Trendall

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