Ed Humpherson to Duncan Selbie, Public Health England: Sero-surveillance data

Dear Duncan 


I am writing to welcome the publication of sero-surveillance data by Public Health England.

The background is that at the daily media briefing on 21 May, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care quoted unsourced figures for the percentage of people in London and nationally with COVID-19 antibodies. My team approached Public Health England on 22 May and your colleagues confirmed that these figures came from unpublished data from the PHE Surveillance Cell.

Following our approach, Public Health England published the data on 22 May.

Our expectation, set out in our public statement of 18 May, is that where unpublished data are used by Ministers in significant public statements, they should promptly be made available to all. Public Health England’s publication of these data is in line with this principle and supports equality of access to data used in public debate. It is particularly good that you published the data so quickly after our approach.

I am copying this letter to William Wragg MP, Chair of the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee.

Yours sincerely

Ed Humpherson

Director General for Regulation

Assessment of Statistics on Cancer Survival in England

Dear Iain


Thank you for inviting us to assess ONS’s experimental cancer survival statistics (adult cancer survival by stage of diagnosis and cancer survival for children) against the Code of Practice for Statistics. We have completed the first phase of the assessment and have today published our Assessment Report.

I am pleased that ONS and PHE are collaborating on the publication of cancer survival statistics and that, following user consultation, you have elected to test and release these statistics as experimental statistics to encourage the involvement of users in their development. There is evidence that the statistics do meet a niche user need. However, by providing more insightful commentary, these statistics could also be used to support a wider public understanding of cancer survival more generally. ONS should now work more closely with PHE and other experts to provide a comprehensive and coherent narrative covering the suite of official cancer statistics.

Since your notification[1] of the problems encountered producing adult cancer survival statistics, in June 2018, both ONS and PHE have learned lessons and strengthened the team to ensure the sustained production of these important statistics. Alongside the revised back series of statistics, ONS published a comprehensive explanation for the delay to the publication of the statistics and took the opportunity to detail methodological improvements. Additionally, ONS updated readers about the involvement of peer review in the production of the life tables and survival estimates, enhancements that indicate lessons have been learned from the data processing problems identified in 2018.

The Assessment Report contains nine requirements for improvement. Once ONS has worked with PHE to address these, we will recommend to the Authority that the experimental statistics about children’s and adult cancer survival should be designated as National Statistics. This will demonstrate that the statistics meet the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality and public value and comply with the Code of Practice for Statistics. You are due to report back to us by 31 May 2019 outlining how you have addressed the requirements.

I am copying this letter to Clare Griffiths, Head of Profession for Statistics at Public Health England and Ben Humberstone, Head of Health Analysis and Life Events at ONS.

Yours sincerely

Ed Humpherson
Director General for Regulation



Related Links:

Assessment Report 341 – Cancer Survival in England