Tens of thousands of coronavirus tests have been double-counted, officials admit
Two samples taken from the same patient are being recorded as two separate tests in the Government’s official figures.
Tens of thousands of Covid-19 tests have been double-counted in the Government’s official tally, public health officials have admitted. Diagnostic tests which involve taking saliva and nasal samples from the same patient are being counted as two tests, not one.
The Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England each confirmed the double-counting.
This inflates the daily reported diagnostic test numbers by over 20 per cent, with that proportion being much higher earlier on in the crisis before home test kits were added to the daily totals.
Almost 350,000 more tests have been reported in Government data than people tested since the start of the pandemic. The discrepancy is in large part explained by the practice of counting salvia and nasal samples for the same individual twice.
Public Health England oversee the testing of patients who are seriously ill in hospital, as well as the most critical key workers.
The test involves a swab from the mouth and nose as well as a sample of saliva. Although both of these are taken from the same patient, they are counted twice by the Government in its daily data.
It is not the first time the Government has been caught massaging the testing data. It was accused last month of including thousands of home tests which had been posted but not completed in a bid to reach its target of 100,000 tests.
Jon Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said: “Ministers have already received an embarrassing slap on the wrists for their dodgy spin on testing figures. It seems they haven’t learnt their lesson. We need absolute transparency in the presentation of these figures”.
The Government announced at the beginning of May that it would be extending its target from 100,000 tests per day to 200,000 tests per day. But so far it has only hit the 100,000 target nine times in the 20 days since its introduction.
Global health experts said the Government should stop fixating on its arbitrary targets and instead focus on making testing work to drive down Covid-19 infections in the UK.
Nicola Stonehouse, Professor of Molecular Virology at the University of Leeds, said: “I don’t think it’s helpful to be simply focused on the numbers of tests. We should concentrate on using our testing intelligently and combining testing with contact tracing.” PHE said that there were other reasons why one person may receive more than one test. These included repeating a test after receiving inconclusive results and double checking a negative result.
Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Instead of fixating on the exact number of tests, we should be looking at the ratio of confirmed cases to total number of people tested (and bringing this percentage down), the speed of tests and getting results to individuals.
“All while setting up a massive public health infrastructure with testing sites around the country for regular use by social care workers, health workers, and even towards teachers as capacity grows. The number of tests required is linked to how much transmission is occurring.”
Both Public Health England and the Department for Health and Social Care did not offer further comment.