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“There are three kind of lies: Lies, damned lies and statistics.”

So said Mark Twain in the early 20th century, and today – more than 100 years on – Daily Insight was reminded of that phrase when exploring the growing row between the Department of Health and Social Care and the UK Statistics Authority over the publication of covid-19 testing figures.

After a polite warning to DHSC in early May, the UKSA – the government’s statistics watchdog – today laid down the gauntlet in a stinging letter to health and social care secretary Matt Hancock.

UKSA chair Sir David Norgrove said the DHSC falls “well short” of the expectations of the Code of Practice for Statistics, and said it was “not surprising” there is widespread criticism and distrust of the data on covid-19 tests which are neither “complete” nor “comprehensible”.

It comes after controversies over the way the government is counting tests carried out and overall test capacity amid the drive to hit two national targets.  

The DHSC today insisted it “continues” to work with UKSA on how the test data should be presented, and pointed out that testing statistics are prepared in “very challenging circumstances” – which is an under-statement given the way the pandemic has changed our lives.

It’s unlikely the DHSC will manage to allay UKSA’s concerns completely given the complexities of the testing programme. But hopefully the watchdog’s intervention will encourage less obfuscation from DHSC.  

Block party

Back in March, NHS England took the unprecedented move to block-book all independent hospital capacity to help treat covid-19 patients and ensure some other NHS treatments could continue, changing the relationship between private and public sector in a way not seen before.

According to well-placed sources in the capital, this agreement looks set to continue.

Health chiefs in London are hoping to extend the contract with private hospitals for a further two months, with some pushing for a much longer extension in which the private sector is used to drive down waiting lists until March 2021. If agreed, it is hoped this extension will allow London to clear up some of its elective backlog before a second peak that planners have modelled for November.

London is not alone in these discussions – HSJ can also confirm that similar discussions are happening in the East Midlands and it is currently expected the agreement will roll over.

However, sources also warned of “unintended consequences” of this agreement, in that some clinicians might be unwilling to continue taking on NHS elective work paid on a sessional rate rather than on a more lucrative case by case basis.