SNP stats blunder: Scotland slammed by watchdog for ‘unacceptable’ use of coronavirus data

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Figures released by Holyrood last month in a government news release show that 4,431 antibody tests have been completed so far. These checks are used in Scotland for surveillance measures to provide population-level information on COVID-19.

Dr Gregor Smith, Scotland’s Interim Chief Medical Officer (CMO) stressed COVID-19 antibody tests should be used to “improve the understanding of the virus and in the clinical management of patients.”

But Dr Smith, who wrote to all Scottish NHS boards, stressed there was “currently insufficient clinical evidence” showing the degree of protection antibodies give, or the duration of any protection.

He added: “The only clinically safe option is to assume no meaningful immunity from a positive result until evidence shows otherwise.”

But the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) have criticised the SNP led administration saying the figure cannot be verified.

 



In a letter to the Interim Contact Tracing Director at Public Health Scotland and Scottish Government Chief Statistician, Ed Humpherson, Director General for Regulation at the UK Statistics Authority, said: “Within the news release, it reported that ‘so far, 4,431 antibody tests, for surveillance purposes, have been completed’.

“There is no reference to the data source of the figure quoted in the news release.

“To date, there has been no publication of routine serology (antibody) testing in Scotland.

“As such, this figure cannot be verified. This is unacceptable for a figure of such importance used in a government news release.”

 

The letter continued: “Our expectation, as set out in our public statement of 18 May, is that any data used publicly by the Government should be published in an accessible form, with appropriate explanations of context and sources.

“Antibody testing data are of particular interest to the public and to ensure public confidence and equality of access, we urge you to publish the data quoted in the Scottish Government news release.”

Monica Lennon MSP, Scottish Labour’s Health Spokeswoman branded the figures “an embarrassing rap on the knuckles” for the government.

She added: “The Scottish public needs honest and accurate facts and figures on COVID-19.

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“The Health Secretary should apologise and publish this data without delay.”

The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.

It comes after the head of the NHS test and trace programme, Dido Harding, said there was “not enough data on immunity” for the mass roll-out of antibody tests to the public.

Baroness Harding stressed there was still work to be done on whether having COVID-19 antibodies helped fight off the illness, stating a limitation of the antibody test was that it only told a person whether they had had the virus or not.

 

She added: “I know we all want it to be true that if we have antibodies it will then mean we are free to do things others are not,” she said.

“But at the moment … if we have an antibody test, what it tells you is that you have antibodies.

“Over time, we would expect that we will build up the evidence to demonstrate what proportional level of antibodies you need to actually have immunity and for how long you would have immunity.

“But at the moment, the science isn’t there.”

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