Government agrees to provide councils with daily individual testing data

Written by Sam Trendall on 21 July 2020 in News

Move comes after calls from local authorities

Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/PA Images

The government has acceded to local government demands to provide councils with daily coronavirus testing data on individual patients.

Until now, local councils have only been provided weekly, anonymised testing data on total numbers of coronavirus cases across their authority area. 

The Local Government Association and prominent figures including Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham have previously called on government to provide councils with identifiable data, allowing authorities to better track and manage outbreaks.

On Monday, health secretary Matt Hancock announced that this information will now be provided each day,

The announcement was made during a statement to the House of Commons in which he said he “bows to no one in my enthusiasm for the for the good use of data in decision-making”.

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“Properly used, data is one of the best epidemiological weapons that we have,” he said. “From last month, local directors of public health have had postcode-level data about outbreaks in their area. And from today… we are going further and we are putting enhanced levels of data in the hands of local directors of public health too.” 

The move was welcomed by the LGA. 

Paulette Hamilton, the vice chair of the organisation’s Community Wellbeing Board Paulette Hamilton said the additional data will help “give the level of detail needed for councils… to track down and isolate future flare-ups, to stop them spreading even further”.

“Councils need all the tools at their disposal to help with locating and preventing future local outbreaks of coronavirus in their communities,” she added. “They already have extensive experience of using this type of data across a range of local services, including on how to handle this sensitively and carefully.”

Hamilton, who also serves as cabinet member for health and social care at Birmingham City Council, claimed that councils could help support the test and trace scheme – which so far has consistently failed to reach about one in four people that have tested positive, and a growing proportion of their close contacts.

“Councils’ public health teams also remain ready to use their unique expertise, including speaking other languages, and understanding of their communities to try to reach those who cannot be contacted by the test and trace system,” she said. “They need information on who they should be trying to contact, including people who could not be reached by the system itself. With the right powers, flexibilities, data and long-term funding, councils can help to manage potential outbreaks and prevent the spread of infection.”

In addition to sharing data more widely, Hancock claimed that the government will also increase the breadth and volume of data by ramping the number of tests being carried out, up to a daily total of 500,000.

“Now of course, high-quality testing is the main source of our data,” he said. “And having set targets radically to expand testing over the past few months, which have had exactly the desired effect, as each one has been met, so we are now setting the target for the nation, of half a million antigen tests a day by the end of October, ahead of winter.”


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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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