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Books and Reports

Statistics, Data and Covid

While data and statistics have been a crucial resource and central to the UK Covid response, the pandemic has highlighted the lack of an agile infectious diseases surveillance system which has hampered the ability to track the spread of Covid early on. 

'Existing issues, both societal and structural, have been brought to the fore,' said RSS President Sylvia Richardson, who also chairs the RSS Covid-19 Task Force. 'It’s now important that we learn lessons from the past year so we are better prepared for future pandemics. The government must look how to fully harness the power of statistics by improving our data infrastructure and surveillance systems.'

Each of the ten recommendations has a guiding principle and explanation of 'what's wrong and what's right'. The first calls for a full review of UK health statistics, to address the issues of a fragmented and under-resourced system. Another calls for social care data to be treated as an essential part of this review, noting that the number of care home residents in England is still not known and there is no data to back up the claim that all care home residents have been vaccinated.

Other recommendations include greater transparency around decision making and policy announcements, with full datasets being published so they can be analysed by independent experts. It also highlights the problem of procuring diagnostic tests without robust evaluation, which the RSS's Working Group on Diagnostic Tests is currently reviewing.  

Stian Westlake, Chief Executive of the RSS, said: 'Statistics have been crucial both to our understanding of the pandemic and to our efforts to fight it. While we hope we won’t see another pandemic on this scale, we need to see a culture change now – with more transparency around data and evidence, stronger mechanisms to challenge the misuse of statistics, and leaders with statistical skills.'