Public health officials have complained about being kept in the dark on Covid-19 testing results, making it difficult for them to locate outbreaks and target hotspots throughout the pandemic.
Reuters reported today that the Cabinet Office had forbidden PHE from sharing data with local officials and, by extension, the public from early on in the crisis.
Dr Helen Carter, Public Health England’s deputy director in the Midlands, revealed in a May 15 memo to Birmingham councillors that the government had initially ordered the agency not to share with local councils its surveillance reports containing data about notified cases from local hospital emergency rooms and general practitioners.
“Until April 2020 PHE was not permitted to share the surveillance reports with local partners by the Cabinet Office,” she wrote in the memo. After April, information was shared with public health directors, but the reports remained official secrets and were “marked as official sensitive and not in the public domain,” said the memo, which was reviewed by Reuters.
PHE and others are now pushing back and say the rapid and transparent distribution of data via live dashboards will be crucial to fighting new clusters of the virus as the pandemic rolls on into winter.
The availability of case data at a postal sector level will not just help local public health teams but encourage the public to be more vigilant and adjust their behaviour, they say.
It is understood that a briefing paper and recommendations for Mr Hancock are being prepared now. The data already exists to create the local dashboards and the technical challenge is said not to be great.
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