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UK Statistics Authority reprimands Department of Health over Covid-19 statistics reporting

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Daily figures on coronavirus deaths and testing are released by the DoH (Ben Birchall/PA)

Daily figures on coronavirus deaths and testing are released by the DoH (Ben Birchall/PA)

Daily figures on coronavirus deaths and testing are released by the DoH (Ben Birchall/PA)

The UK Statistics Authority has written to Richard Pengelly, the Department of Health's permanent secretary, noting the "serious public concern" over the reporting of Covid-19 statistics in Northern Ireland.

Over the last two weeks, there have been several changes to how coronavirus figures, including deaths and the number of tests carried out, have been reported.

On April 19, to DoH released a coronavirus dashboard to display daily statistics, replacing the daily surveillance reports released by the Public Health Agency.

In a letter to Richard Pengelly, Ed Humpherson, director general for regulation at the UK Statistics Authority, said: "This dashboard was suspended two days later on the grounds that a figure in it was incorrect, with limited explanation of the nature of the error."

Since the dashboard was suspended, the DoH has been releasing "less complete" daily statistics through their website and social media, Mr Humpherson said.

He said it is clear the DoH wants to address these issues and published comprehensive figures, which are of "huge public interest", "once you are assured of the quality of the data".

In order to do so, Mr Humpherson advised Mr Pengelly of four guidelines to assist in this process.

These are:

  • Daily surveillance statistics should be released in a transparent, easily accessible and orderly way. A news release on the departmental website and Twitter are not sufficient.
  • There are gaps in the data and daily time series have been lost since the statistics began to be issued through DoH news releases. These gaps and losses need to be addressed.
  • Data and statistics should be accompanied with clear information on data sources, definitions and explanations. Users should be provided with appropriate context and explanation, particularly now, where different statistics from different data sources are being produced and used in relation to COVID-19.
  • Communication to users of the statistics should be improved so they know in advance about any changes and where and when they can find the changed statistics.

Mr Humpherson concluded his letter by stating: "The advice of the Senior Statistician within the Department should always be sought in matters relating to statistics and data, and they should have sole authority for deciding the methods, standards and procedures and the content and timing of the release of official statistics.

"I know there is serious public concern about the changes that have been made to the COVID-19 statistics and I look forward to your reply. I would be happy to discuss."

Belfast Telegraph