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.

National Statistics Designation Review – Phase 1 Exploratory Review

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) has conducted an exploratory review to see whether the time is right to look at the meaning and value of the NS designation: does it meet the needs of official statistics in serving the public good in a data abundant world? And, if required, what further developments should be conducted?

This paper summarises the findings from the exploratory review in which we spoke to a range of stakeholders, to get an initial steer on the value and usefulness of the NS designation. It presents recommendations that OSR and official statistics producers can consider, to improve the information for users about the status of official statistics.

Please see our review page for further information about the National Statistics designation review.

NHS Digital data access review update – May 2019

Executive Summary

This report sets out the initial conclusions from the Office for Statistics Regulation’s (OSR) Review of NHS Digital’s data sharing and access processes, and the areas that will now be subject to further review.

Enabling users to access data is one of the key ways that statistics producers can meet the Code of Practice for Statistics’ expectations to fulfil the potential of the data they hold.

The areas we will be focusing on have been identified following conversations with users of English health data about their experiences of accessing data from NHS Digital.

We have identified some actions that OSR and NHS Digital can take now to address user concerns without needing further exploration.

The main objective of the next stage of the Review is to identify ways to ensure that the full potential of NHS Digital’s data can be realised. It will address two areas:

  • How can users with innovative or complicated proposals be supported to access health data in England?
  • How can data users and NHS Digital work together to improve data quality and documentation?


Related Links:

Ed Humpherson to Sarah Wilkinson (NHS Digital), May 2019

Joining Up Data for Better Statistics, September 2018

International perspective on criminal justice statistics

We commissioned Professor Chris Lewis to carry out a rapid review of crime and criminal justice statistics in other countries, to inform our work in the UK. We wanted to get a sense of how UK statistics compared internationally, answering questions such as:

  • Is coverage of existing statistics in the UK better, similar to or worse than those in most other countries?
  • Do other countries produce statistics on particular topics that are missing in the UK and if so what are the most significant gaps?
  • Are there any lessons that producer organisations in the UK might learn from the equivalent organisations in other countries about crime and justice statistics?

We asked Professor Lewis to draw on his existing knowledge and to update and add to this where necessary, primarily using internet searches. We asked for a short overview report with referenced examples to allow further investigation, rather than an in-depth report. We asked Professor Lewis to draw his conclusions and give some sense of the priority he would put on any suggestions for developing the statistics. The opinions expressed are the Author’s own. We commissioned the report in 2016 and some of the detail may now be out of date. For example ONS’s crime index (paragraph 23) is now published.

Although we commissioned the report primarily to fill a gap in our knowledge, producer organisations from across the UK – who are keen to learn from others – said they would find the report useful and we have shared it with them. We are publishing the report to give equal access to others with an interest in this topic.

Contact for more information:

Email Pat MacLeod
020 7592 8657