Editorial – 03 Jun 2020

Lies damned lies and statistics…

Having reliable data is essential for any business. Just imagine running your business or your department if you didn’t have a handle on your finances. How much more important is it when it is a life or death matter – such as handling our response to the pandemic?

To misquote Admiral Beatty at Jutland – ‘there’s something wrong with our bloody statistics.’ It is shocking that it is being reported that, notwithstanding the daily press conferences and the data presented there we still do not know the number of people that have been tested for Covid-19. We do not have an accurate picture of the numbers tested each day either. The daily test count is made up of four separate data sets added together – however they are not all measuring the same thing. We have the tests carried out in hospital (pillar 1); the tests carried out commercially – typically tests taken at the drive through centres (pillar 2). These two pillars are, in my view fairly aggregated. Pillar 3, however is the number of home test kits that have been posted out – it would perhaps have been better if the number reported was the number of home test kits received – then the data reported would have been more meaningfully aggregated with pillars 1 and 2. Pillar 4 is for a different test altogether – it is for the serology test seeing whether someone has developed antibodies – in other words have they recovered from the disease.

So why are we in this mess. I fear it is spin and image management – not hard science. Matt Hancock was desperate to hit his self- imposed arbitrary 100,000 tests by the end of April. I remember being struck by one of his press conferences a few days before his deadline when he was challenged as to his confidence of hitting the target and he blithely swatted it away. I sensed then that he had a ‘rabbit’ up his sleeve – and evidently it was the bulk posting of home testing kits. Matt Hancock and the Dept of Health and Social Care are no fools. He will know that you can’t or shouldn’t compare “apples” with “oranges” – however he has evidently mandated this statistical sleight of hand.

It is shocking when you reach a point of saying I do not trust the statistics published by a Government department. However that’s where we are.

Andrew W Dawson
Solicitor and Director
Brunswicks Law Limited

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