Central government could be sitting on data that masks the real number of coronavirus infections at a local level, a Financial Times investigation has revealed.
The number of new cases in the regions only includes pillar 1 data from hospitals and not pillar 2 from commercial labs and home tests.
It means that in places like Leicester, which has been forced back into lockdown this week, up to 90 per cent of new cases could have been missed by the local authorities, leading to a delayed response.
Local leaders have criticised the slow response from the Government and Public Health England (PHE) in sharing case and testing data for the city.
Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said he had been trying “for weeks” to access data on the level of testing in the city and was only given access last Thursday.
According to the most recent data, published on Monday, there have been 1,056 cases in Leicester since the outbreak began.
But Leicester City Council said that the latest figures it has received show there have been 3,216 Covid-19 cases confirmed in the city since the start of the pandemic.
But the govt is sitting on a much more complete dataset including pillar 2, which tells a completely different story— John Burn-Murdoch (@jburnmurdoch) June 30, 2020
More than 90% of new cases in Leicester are now under pillar 2, yet these numbers are not public. If you’re a local biz owner in Leicester, you only see the blue. pic.twitter.com/aZY20EuOGc
A Public Health England official, who declined to be named, said non-publication was a ministerial decision.
“The Department for Health and Social Care need to make the decision to publish — and they should — but we can’t push them because we are their arms-length body.”
Kate Ardern, who leads health protection and emergency planning for Greater Manchester, said the information being sent to local authorities from tests conducted under pillar two lacked the granularity or timeliness needed to pre-empt an outbreak.
For the past two months she and colleagues had been making their concerns known to officials and ministers, she said.
“If I don’t know who is being tested, and getting positive tests, in the community because one of the major elements of the testing system isn’t currently sending me complete and reliable intelligence . . . it actually hampers our ability to get ahead of the curve on outbreak management,” said Ms Ardern.