COVID-19 surveillance and registered deaths data review

Information available on COVID-19 cases and deaths has been developed rapidly in a constantly shifting environment. The work being done by analysts to get this information into the public domain is commendable. There will always be a desire for improvements to the timeliness and completeness of data, but this should not undermine the huge efforts being made by individuals and organisations to deliver timely data to support decision making and inform the public.

Our vision is statistics that serve the public good. We aim to support producers of statistics and data to achieve this while championing the needs of the public. We have undertaken a short review of the data releases on COVID-19 cases and deaths – at a UK level and for each country within the UK – to help understanding of the available sources and to highlight strengths and our view on areas for improvement. This document outlines the findings from our review, that is necessarily only a snapshot of what are very fast-moving developments.

In reviewing the various statistical outputs, we have been guided by the three pillars of the Code of Practice for Statistics: Trustworthiness, Quality and Value. Trustworthiness refers the governance that surrounds the production of statistics; Quality refers to the characteristics of the data; and Value considers the extent to which the statistics answer users’ questions.

Summary of findings

There have been many developments to the data and supporting information available on COVID-19. Analysts have made huge efforts to deliver the information and have shown a willingness to address concerns and make rapid improvements.

There is great value in having timely data, such as the daily surveillance data covering the UK that is published less than 24 hours after the data reporting period. It provides an important leading indicator of the trend in COVID-19 testing, cases and deaths, which is essential to inform operational decisions being made at pace. However, the speed at which these data are made available means there has been a trade off with completeness, and the limitations of the UK data have not been fully explained.

The nature and extent of the uncertainty around the UK estimates of deaths associated with COVID-19 has not so far been made clear. However, we are aware of efforts being made to improve the clarity and transparency of the material that accompanies the daily briefing, including drawing on support from the Government Statistical Service (GSS).

In contrast, the weekly death statistics published for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland provide a more complete measure of the number of deaths associated with COVID-19, but these statistics are released with a greater time lag.

ONS’s publication of its forward workplans in this area is a helpful development for stakeholders and it is important that other nations provide detail about their plans to keep users of the statistics informed. We understand that the GSS is considering the accessibility of all the information on COVID-19 to allow users to navigate all outputs from a central hub, such as the GSS health and care statistics landscape.

Areas for further development

  1. It is important to maintain public confidence and trustworthiness of statistics that are used to inform public debate. The nature and extent of the uncertainty around the UK estimates of deaths associated with COVID-19 should be clarified.
  2. All statistics producers should show they are actively considering the diverse and changing user need for COVID-19 statistics, by publishing detailed plans for improvements, for example, information about the occupancy of intensive care units or beds, or on person characteristics, such as ethnicity.
  3. The GSS should consider the accessibility of the information and allow users to navigate all COVID-19 related outputs from a central hub, such as the GSS landscape.

Statement from the Office for Statistics Regulation – COVID-19 Update

We welcome the work of analysts across a range of organisations in providing the public with information related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pace at which these organisations have set up new data collection and dissemination processes has been unprecedented and enabled timely updates on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. We warmly congratulate all those who are contributing to this effort.

Estimates for the number of cases and deaths for the whole UK are being published and each of the four nations within the UK should continue to collaborate to enable UK reporting as statistics are developed further.

In our discussions with producers of statistics, we have seen a commitment to continuously improve the information provided to the public. Following these discussions, there have been improvements to provide greater clarity, including:

  • clarification of what the daily figures published by Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) do and do not include (those who have died in hospitals and who have tested positive for COVID-19);
  • improvements to the supporting information on the Public Health England (PHE) dashboard, including clearer explanation of the sources and coverage of these figures;
  • explanation in the Office for National Statistics (ONS) weekly deaths statistics of how COVID-19 related deaths impact on the figures;
  • clarification of how ONS and DHSC figures relate to each other through the joint statement published by DHSC and ONS;
  • cessation of publication of a “patients recovered” figure by Public Health England because of data quality limitations.

Clear explanations of what the data mean for Northern Ireland and the commitment to regular publication times in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also support user confidence.

It is important that statistics producers continue to enhance the information available to the public. We have been assured that statistics producers are working to make developments, including:

  • further breakdowns of the data and more information about hospital admissions;
  • more information on the capacity of and demands on the health system, building on the analysis of NHS 111 calls published by NHS Digital;
  • further explanation of how the figures from the UK’s four nations compare to one another;
  • and, in the medium term, greater information about the demographic characteristics of people who are confirmed as having or having had COVID-19.

COVID-19 and the regulation of statistics

Today, The Director General for Statistics Regulation has made the following statement:

“This is a very difficult time for everyone as the UK adjusts to rapid changes in society and the economy. The priority is to protect the health and safety of individuals – including through changing working patterns and practices – and to support the information needs of society.

“Organisations that produce official statistics are rightly showing flexibility and adapting what they collect and publish to respond to this new environment. The Office for Statistics Regulation fully supports this flexibility and the responsiveness shown by producers of statistics.

“We have prepared a package of measures including guidance on factors that producers should consider when making changes to data collection, statistics production and release. We have also set out an approach to rapid regulatory reviews, potentially including National Statistics status, for any new outputs published by producers which inform the public about the coronavirus and its economic and social impacts. We will support sensible changes to existing production practices.”

Celebrating one year since the refresh of the Code of Practice for Statistics

This time last year, the UK Statistics Authority launched the refreshed Code of Practice for Statistics. 

The refreshed Code has supported and developed thinking on statistics as a public asset based on three pillars – Trustworthiness, Quality and Value.

This has enabled users and producers to have a set of principles that underpin independent statistics production and presentation, ensuring confidence in this essential public asset. This is important because statistics frame public debate. They inform public understanding of what’s going on in the world. They help provide a basis for people to make decisions – whether as policy makers, citizens, professionals or businesses. And they create a common ground for debate – about what’s working, what isn’t working and what needs to change.

 

Speaking on the first anniversary:

Sir David Norgrove, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority said: “It’s essential that people can have confidence in the statistics produced by Government. The Code of Practice for Statistics aims to provide the framework to ensure that statistics are trustworthy, good quality, and valuable. Statistics will serve the public good if producers follow the principles and practices set out in the Code.”

Ed Humpherson, Director General for Regulation said: “In a world of abundant data people want to sift the useful information from the unreliable. The principles of trustworthiness, quality and value really support this aim – and this is why the Code has been endorsed widely inside and outside Government.”

 

Guest blogging on the first anniversary:

Sir David Spiegelhalter, Former RSS President said: “A personal highlight of my last year as RSS President was the new Code of Practice for Statistics … Its emphasis on the trustworthiness of statistics gets to the core of what we are about as a community.” You can read Sir David’s blog here.

John Pullinger, National Statistician said: “The real power of the code is as an antidote to the narratives about loss of trust in institutions in general and in the use of data in particular.” Read John’s blog here.

Steve Ellerd-Elliott, Head of Profession at the Department for Work and Pensions said: “A new aspect of the Code that we have embraced is voluntary application to extend trustworthiness, quality and value to statistics that we routinely publish statistics on benefits, employment programmes and other important subjects that aren’t Official or National statistics.” You can read Steve’s blog here.

 

Note for Editors

The refreshed Code is available in three formats: as a booklet, an online PDF and a newly developed interactive code with case study examples – please visit here.

The Code of Practice for Statistics is an important tool in protecting official statistics by setting the standards which must be met to ensure the public can have confidence in them.

The Code standards are used:

  • by statisticians, and other analysts when producing and publishing official statistics;
  • by the Office for Statistics Regulation when determining whether official statistics can be called National Statistics;
  • by the Authority when publicly challenging the misuse of statistics;
  • to support judgements about the publication of wider numerical information; and
  • to enable statistics that are not currently National or Official statistics to voluntarily apply the principles and support users.

If you have an enquiry or require further information about the refreshed Code of Practice please email the regulation team.

The Social Metrics Commission Voluntarily Adopts the Code of Practice for Statistics

The Office for Statistics Regulation is pleased to announce that the Social Metrics Commission has become one of the latest organisations to publish a statement of voluntary compliance with the UK Statistics Authority’s Code of Practice for Statistics.

This demonstrates the Commission’s full commitment to applying the pillars of Trustworthiness, Quality and Value which underpin the Code. The Commission is one of the first non-Government bodies to voluntarily comply with the pillars of Authority’s Code of Practice.

Ed Humpherson, the Director General for Regulation at the Office for Statistics Regulation said: “I am delighted that the Social Metrics Commission has chosen to apply the pillars of the Code of Practice for Statistics to prepare their new poverty measure. They set a strong example of how to be transparent, reassure users and ensure high standards.”

Philippa Stroud, Chair of the Social Metrics Commission said: “Our approach to measuring poverty is underpinned by the need to build consensus and trust in their work and the analysis they produce. The Commission hopes to play a central role in improving the measurement of poverty in the UK, and consequently, drive better outcomes for people and families who are struggling to make ends meet.”

To see the latest list of organisations to voluntarily adopt the Code or find out more voluntary application please visit the online Code or contact regulation@statistics.gov.uk.

Public value of statistics on Housing and Planning in the UK

Housing matters and it affects all citizens in the UK. Official statistics on housing and planning play a vital role in helping to inform decision-making of all kinds.

This review and its findings are focussed on the user perspective. We’ve heard a number of users’ views across the UK on the value of these statistics, and how well they meet their needs. This perspective – based on feedback from over 60 users across 43 organisations – has allowed us to build a picture about the statistical landscape for this topic, and the necessary drivers needed to improve these statistics to increase their public value. Value means that the data and statistics are easy to use, remain relevant, and benefit society, helping the public to understand important issues and answer key questions.

Overall, the topic of housing and planning appears to be well served by an impressive volume of official statistics. Our report highlights a number of areas of good practice in statistical production from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We have also identified opportunities for improvements to the statistical landscape at two levels: firstly, improvements to statistical outputs can help shine a light on society’s evolving questions about housing and planning in the UK. Secondly, more strategic coordination and collaboration between statistics producers across the UK, as well as greater engagement with users, can help drive improvements in outputs.

We think that starting from the users’ perspective is an essential prerequisite to improvements. This review provides a user-based stocktake, and it is therefore the starting point for these improvements. We welcome statistics producers being open to feedback and willing to listen to these views. We would be very happy to help facilitate changes, and to that end will continue to engage with producers and users of these statistics.