Dido Harding has been called on to resign following a ‘shambolic’ blunder which saw almost 16,000 Covid-19 cases going unreported.
The government’s new testing tsar, who was appointed in August to head up the Test and Trace scheme, was forced to admit that a technical issue resulted in 15,841 cases between September 25 and October 2 being left out of the reported daily coronavirus cases.
The reason for this was that the database is managed in Excel and the number of columns had reached the maximum, pouring yet more scorn on the government’s efforts to get a handle on the situation.
In the UK the number of cases rose rapidly.— Max Roser (@MaxCRoser) October 5, 2020
But the public – and authorities – are only learning this now because these cases were only published now as a backlog.
The reason was apparently that the database is managed in Excel and the number of columns had reached the maximum. pic.twitter.com/X4a8keSEHK
Michael Brodie, interim chief executive at PHE, said the “technical issue” was identified overnight on Friday October 2 in the data load process that transfers Covid-19 positive lab results into reporting dashboards.
The files have now been split into smaller multiple files to prevent the issue happening again.
How can Dido Harding keep her job?— Paul Bernal (@PaulbernalUK) October 4, 2020
Test and Trace and Public Health England joint medical adviser Susan Hopkins said: “All outstanding cases were immediately transferred to the contact tracing system by 1am on 3 October and a thorough public health risk assessment was undertaken to ensure outstanding cases were prioritised for contact tracing effectively.”
PHE said NHS Test and Trace have made sure that there are more than enough contact tracers working, and are working with local health protection teams to ensure they also have sufficient resources to be urgently able to contact all cases.
The number of call attempts is being increased from 10 to 15 over 96 hours.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “This is shambolic and people across the country will be understandably alarmed.
“Matt Hancock should come to the House of Commons on Monday to explain what on earth has happened, what impact it has had on our ability to contain this virus and what he plans to do to fix test and trace.”
This is just shambolic. ‘Technical problems’ means over 15,000 previously missing Covid cases added to the totals for recent days.— Jonathan Ashworth ? (@JonAshworth) October 4, 2020
Were these cases followed up by contact tracing teams? Are contacts isolating? How does this impact local restrictions?
People will be alarmed. pic.twitter.com/46hOXxyvur
On Monday morning, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey was asked if she knew how many potential close contacts have not been traced.
She told BBC Breakfast: “I’m afraid I just don’t have that information”, but said PHE had resolved the issue quickly.