It has been nearly three years since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 on individuals and society has been profound. In the UK, to date, there have been over 200,000 deaths involving COVID-19. The UK implemented unprecedented lockdown rules in order to slow the spread of the virus, restricting the reasons for which people could leave their homes. And, as the UK moves to a new phase of the pandemic, its health and social care services face immense pressures. The latest figures show that, in England, ambulance response times have increased, over seven million people are waiting for planned hospital treatment (the highest figure since records began), and 38% of patients missed the two-month waiting time target for cancer treatment following an urgent GP referral. Similar pressures on services are being experienced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is rightly a desire to learn lessons from the pandemic, with public inquiries underway to understand the UK’s response and the response in Scotland.

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The impact of COVID-19 on health and social care statistics

In the UK, the statistical system comprises the community of producers who publish official statistics, as well as those involved in the wider ecosystem of statistics and data used to explain and understand life in the UK. This includes epidemiological analyses and published management information.

The need to understand and manage the pandemic placed huge demands on the UK’s statistical system. The impact of the pandemic was most acute for health and social care statistics, which cover public health and health and social care services.

This year (October 2021-October 2022) we have undertaken a follow-up to our 2021 review of the impact of the pandemic on health and social care statistics. Last year we commended the remarkable response of health and social care statistics producers to meet the huge public appetite for data and statistics about COVID-19. We found that producers worked quickly and collaboratively to inform and engage the public, in many cases overcoming challenges which would previously have seemed insurmountable. However, the pandemic also drew attention to existing problems and created new challenges for health and social care statistics. There were gaps in important information and it was not always clear where users could find the information they needed or which data they should use.

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Timeline of the pandemic

March 2020

11th: WHO declares COVID-19 a pandemic

23rd: Prime Minister announces first UK lockdown, requiring people to ‘stay at home’


April 2020

1st: Launch of Public Health Scotland

2nd: The UK Government announces its strategy for increasing testing across the UK, including an ambition to conduct 100,000 tests per day by the end of April


May 2020

28th: Launch of the NHS Test and Trace programme in England


December 2020

8th: The UK’s vaccination programme begins

18th: Public Health England designates the Alpha variant as a new ‘variant of concern’


May 2021

7th: Public Health England identifies the Delta variant as a new ‘variant of concern’


October 2021

1st: Launch of UK Health Security Agency and creation of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities within the Department for Health and Social Care in England


November 2021

21st: UK Health Security Agency identifies the Omicron variant as a new ‘variant of concern’

30th: UK government announces that all adults in England over the age of 18 will receive a booster vaccine by the end of January 2022


April 2022

1st: Implementation of the UK Government’s Living with COVID-19 plan, including the end of free mass testing in England


May 2022

25th: Scottish COVID-19 inquiry formally opens


July 2022

21st: UK COVID-19 inquiry formally opens


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