Results of tens of thousands of Covid-19 tests disappear into ‘black hole’

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The results of tens of thousands of Covid-19 tests carried out by the government’s network of testing centres are not being shared locally, stalling efforts to control the outbreak, it has emerged.

A leaked email, seen by the Health Service Journal (HSJ), said data from a new testing programme of non-NHS labs – managed by consultancy firm Deloitte – is not available.

Sent at the weekend from a regional NHS incident centre, the email said: “No new national testing programme (NTP) data will be reported in this brief from 4 May until further notice.

“This is due to the NTP testing numbers increasingly becoming unavailable.

“A reporting solution for NTP data is being built into the (Department for Health and Social Care) portal – once available, it will be captured in this testing brief again.”

The results of the tests are still being fed into the national UK totals. However, only NHS lab results, which now account for less than half of all tests carried out, are being reported locally.

One source told the HSJ the local intelligence which should be produced from the testing system is “disappearing into a data black hole”.

A public health director from the south of England, which has been badly hit by the virus, told HSJ there was no access to data from non-NHS labs.

He said: “The system remains a mess – multiple routes to test, multiple command structures via the NHS. How are directors of public health expected to manage and direct testing?

“We need to arrange testing for staff and for residents. But the NHS does some of it, mobile testing sites run by military do other bits, regional testing sites do others, but travel is a challenge.”

Data on regional outbreaks will be vital to the success of the test, track and trace programme being implemented by the government.

The data is meant to tell local organisations how many residents and staff in their area have tested positive and enable them to work out the capacity for more tests.

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