Coronavirus test results from thousands are 'disappearing'

Britain’s testing fiasco deepens amid claims coronavirus test results from thousands of people are ‘disappearing into a black hole’ that NHS boards can’t access to control local outbreaks

  • Data on positive test results used to be available to guide local response
  • But an official email on May 4 said ‘no data is being reported until further notice’ 
  • Thousands of positive test results are now untraceable, it has been claimed 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Britain’s testing fiasco has deepened again today amid claims test results of tens of thousands of people have ‘disappeared into a black hole’.

Authorities across the UK say they can no longer access data for swabs conducted outside NHS hospitals, which helps them control outbreaks locally. 

Officials used to provide the results but NHS boards have now been told ‘no data is being reported until further notice’. The problem arose on May 4. 

Reporting will now only include tests that have been conducted in NHS labs, which only account for around half of the total swabs carried out.

It means more than 7,000 people who have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past three days are now untraceable. 

It comes after furious GPs slammed the ‘failing’ government for leaving them in the dark about how many people in the community are infected.

Britain’s testing fiasco has deepened once more amid claims the test results of thousands of people have ‘disappeared into a black hole’

Previously results data was provided to authorities, but ‘no data is being reported until further notice’ it has been claimed. Pictured, testing facility at Chessington 

An internal NHS update email, seen by the specialist news website Health Service Journal, said full information from the national testing programme (NTP) cannot be reported ‘until further notice’. It’s not clear if this is UK-wide or just England.

The NTP (The National Testing Programme) provides home tests to key workers or symptomatic members of their household. 

The programme, coordinated by the Department of Health and Social Care, was part of the testing expansion to reach thousands more people. 

Consultancy firm Deloitte was hired to support the scaling up testing nationally, and is understood to be handling logistics across a number of the testing spots such as drive-through centres, working alongside other private companies such as Serco and Boots. 

So far 656,340 people in the UK’s pillar two category – coronavirus tests carried out outside of hospital – have been swabbed.

This includes key workers such as from the NHS, their household members and over 65s with tell-tale symptoms. 

The NTP is normally meant to tell local organisations exactly how many residents and key workers in their areas have tested positive.

This helps build a picture of the crisis in each location, so that officials can respond with appropriate measures.

For example, it guides where testing capacity needs to be drastically ramped up in order to potentially deal with an influx of demand.

GPs have ‘no idea’ how many of their patients have COVID-19 

GPs in England say they have ‘no idea’ how many of their patients have coronavirus because the Government is not sharing test results with them.

Family doctors and councils were promised the results from hundreds of thousands of swabs carried out at drive-through centres weeks ago. 

But the Government’s national testing programme coordinator said there had been ‘data quality issues’ which had prevented the information being shared.

GPs and local health officials today slammed the ‘failing’ Government for leaving them in the dark about how many people in their community are infected.

Dominic Harrison, director of public health at Blackburn with Darwen council in Lancashire, said he has no idea if ’10, 100 or 1,000′ residents have tested positive.

And one GP in Oxford said the only way she found out if a patient of hers had the bug was if they were ill enough to be admitted to hospital.

Results were promised to be linked to the medical records of patients in England – but so far that has failed to materialise. 

Helen Salisbury, a GP at the Observatory Practice in Oxford, told The Guardian she has 100 suspected COVID-19 cases on her list and has only been given the results of five.

She told the paper: ‘We have had absolutely zero information. The only way I know if a patient of mine has tested positive for Covid is if they have been ill enough to be admitted to hospital. It feels like we’ve been completely left out of the conversation, whereas most of the Covid out there is being handled by GPs.’

Nick Mann, a GP at the Well Street surgery in Hackney, London, said: ‘As a GP I’m absolutely fuming, not only with the way it’s been mishandled but with the unreliable information we are getting. This government has developed a completely parallel system in order to bypass the NHS, and it’s failing.’

A senior national NHS source told the HSJ that the NTP had previously been ‘publishing clear details of exactly how many people were visiting each drive-through centre at each hour of each day, and also how many home testing kits were being posted each day’. 

They added: ‘[But as of recent days] it’s now impossible to get that data from them and they are not sharing it with groups they used to share it with internally.’  

A source said results data was instead ‘disappearing into a data black hole’. 

The email, sent at the weekend from a regional NHS incident centre, said the problem was due to the NTP testing numbers increasingly becoming unavailable.

The email said: ‘No new national testing programme 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.’ 

MailOnline has contacted NHS England and Department of Health for comment. The former directed us towards the latter. 

GPs last week flagged that they had ‘no idea’ how many of their patients had been infected with the coronavirus so far – even though they were promised to be kept in the loop.

The Government’s COVID-19 testing tsar, Professor John Newton, apologised that data from commercial tests was not available on May 6, saying there had been ‘data quality issues’. This appears to remain the case. 

It comes as ministers desperately scramble to boost testing capacity to 200,000 by the end of the month – a pledge made by Prime Minister Boris Johnson – despite signs the system showing signs of ‘creaking’.

Lawrence Young, professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick and an infectious disease expert told MailOnline aid: ‘The bottom line is we are creaking. 

‘It’s no one’s fault people are working really hard. But the test is complicated and it’s quite clear we are not on top of it.’

He noted the secret shipping of some 50,000 tests from the UK to the US in the first week of May as an indication the UK is struggling to cope with testing. 

A Department of Health source confirmed the shipping was true after it was first reported by the Sunday Telegraph, and said there were ‘delays in the system… as a result of operational issues in our lab network’.  

The glitch in labs processing tests came just days after Matt Hancock revealed testing capacity had hit 100,000 a day on May 1.

Since then, testing numbers have been lower than 100,000 every day, apart from May 10 when 100,490 were carried out or sent out.

High street pharmacist Boots has now been asked to help ramp up testing in order to reach the ambitious 200,000 target. 

Boots is now advertising for 1,000 current staff and unpaid volunteers to work at least 32 hours a week as COVID-19 swab testers.

It said it was working with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to set up and staff a number of test stations across the country. 

But unions have accused ministers of ‘taking advantage of people’s good nature’, insisting the programme ‘takes the notion of volunteering way too far’.

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