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Government ‘overstated testing figures by 200,000 in height of pandemic’

Total number of people tested for COVID-19

Revised figures were released on Thursday (Graphic: DHSC/Metro.co.uk)

The government has reportedly quietly published figures that reveal it was regularly overstating testing numbers at the height of the UK coronavirus outbreak.

New figures posted to the Department of Health and Social Care’s website on Thursday seemingly show that numbers were boosted by as much as 200,000 at the end of May, analysis from Sky News claims.

On May 21, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said 2.06 million people had been tested at the government’s daily press conference.

However, revised data shows that only 1.8 million had been tested across the UK at this stage.

Testing figures were overstated by roughly 20,000 each week, while the government stopped releasing daily data on how many individual people had been tested in England on May 23.

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The DoH said the practice had been ‘temporarily paused’ but Downing Street confirmed this week that the decision to stop publishing the daily data is final.

This is because figures could be miscalculated as they only count people having their first test, with many NHS and care staff now undergoing regular Covid-19 testing.

The government still publishes daily figures for the number of tests carried out, and total testing capacity. The figure for the number of people tested will be released weekly.

A medical worker takes a swab to test for the novel coronavirus COVID-19 from a visitor to a drive-in testing facility at the Chessington World of Adventures Resort, in Chessington, southwest of London, on May 2, 2020. - Britain's overall death toll from the coronavirus outbreak rose by 739 to 27,510 on May 1 as the government announced that it had reached its COVID-19 testing goal administering a total of 122,347 tests on April 29. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

A medical worker takes a swab to test for the novel coronavirus COVID-19 from a visitor to a drive-in testing facility at the Chessington World of Adventures Resort (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson’s spokesperson has explained: ‘This is because the daily people-tested statistic only counts new people being tested. For example, someone who is tested in February and then tested again this month will only be counted once.

‘Considering hospital and care home staff are now being tested on a regular basis, we don’t think this statistic would be an accurate reflection of the amount of daily testing that is taking place.’

However, the situation was named ‘an absolute shambles’ by Labour’s Justin Madders earlier in the week.

He said: ‘It seems that the real reason why the government stopped issuing figures for the number of people tested each day is because they never hit their 100,000 people a day target and they were too embarrassed to admit it.

‘It is clear that ministers are losing control over the testing regime and are failing to not only keep track of the tests but to ensure the results are returned swiftly.’

Responding to accusations that figures were wrongly reported at the height of the UK coronavirus crisis, a DHSC spokesperson said they had been ‘completely transparent about the data we collect and publish, and are always looking to improve our statistics’.

They added: ‘We have worked with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Office for Statistics Regulation on our new approach to these publications and will continue to work closely with them as we develop these figures.

‘We have rapidly built, from scratch, a large-scale testing programme and can now provide a test to anybody who needs one.

‘Over 11 million tests have been delivered so far and we have the capacity to carry out more than 300,000 tests per day – helping to curb the spread of the virus and save lives.’

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