Government hasn’t shared coronavirus data with Bedford health teams

Matt Hancock
The Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, has overseen PPE procurement

The Health Secretary has been accused of ‘inaccuracies’ after he said coronavirus data had been shared with Bedford Borough Council’s health teams, when it has not.

In the House of Commons yesterday (Wednesday) Richard Fuller, MP for NE Beds, asked the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, “Local authorities in Bedfordshire have the highest incidence rate of coronavirus across the east of England.

“The Secretary of State said in his statement that the processes are in place to escalate concerns if there needs to be a local lockdown, but there are local concerns about the availability of local data.

“What is the current state of localised data? What efforts is he making to improve its availability?”

Urgent Question on Coronavirus

I had the chance during an Urgent Question in the House of Commons earlier to raise my concerns about the local rate of Coronavirus infections.

Posted by Richard Fuller on Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Mr Hancock responded to Mr Fuller, saying, “Localised data is available through the work of Public Health England and local directors of public health, including the director for Bedfordshire, and then through our survey data, although that is stronger at the national level than at the regional or local levels.

“Pulling all this data together, and then ensuring that it gets to the decision makers so that they can base their decisions on it, is the task of the joint biosecurity centre.

“I will ask its head to write to my hon. Friend with details of the data it has on Bedfordshire and what further data it is working on in order to answer the questions that my hon. Friend rightly asks.”

Bedford’s council leaders say they have urgently requested detailed data about the spread of coronavirus in the Borough for over three weeks.

With the Borough showing a high infection rate, they say it’s vital the authorities are able to initiate a ‘local lockdown’ if necessary, based on accurate information.

Cllr Louise Jackson (Labour), portfolio holder for public health and wellbeing, told the Bedford Independent, “I welcome Richard’s efforts to obtain the granular data that we’ve been trying to obtain for weeks.

“But I regret that the Secretary of State’s response is inaccurate, because at this time this much-needed data has not been made available to Local Authority Public Health teams, either through Public Health England or the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

“Despite the issues with data, council officers across all departments are working incredibly hard to protect residents and staff in care settings, they are working with schools and businesses to ensure that they can operate in the safest possible way, and continue to respond to outbreaks with real efficiency, just as they would with any outbreak of communicable disease.

“I have nothing but praise for the work that they are doing, in the most challenging of circumstances.”

Mr Fuller said, “The Secretary of State responded that he would ask the Head of the Joint Biosecurity Centre – the group in charge of collating all the available data and making sure it gets to decision makers at a local level – to write to me with the data that is currently available for Bedfordshire and what further data they are working on.

“I was encouraged by this response. I will also be writing to the Department with some additional questions which I hope will proves helpful and I will share the information as soon as I receive it.”

Mohammad Yasin, MP for Bedford and Kempston also waded in, saying, “The R number could be crucial to understanding transmission rates in the community yet is only available calculated at the national and regional levels. This was confirmed by the Commons Library.

“The joint biosecurity centres may have been tasked with providing local data, but whoever’s job it is, the fact remains, the data isn’t there.

“At the end of the day, the buck stops with the Government and it’s their responsibility to ensure that quality data is provided for local planners and public health leaders to ensure they can make the vital local decisions they need to keep the community safe.

“I certainly hope that if more detailed data is forthcoming, that this is shared with all the necessary stakeholders as soon as possible.”

Jonathan Ashworth MP
Jonathan Ashworth MP

Responding to a question about ‘local lockdowns’ from Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Mr Hancock said, “We are working very closely with local authorities on local lockdowns.

“The hon. Gentleman specifically raised the point about powers, as he has before. I have powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020, passed by this Parliament.

“If powers are needed by local authorities, then there is a process to raise that requirement up through a command chain that leads to a gold command, which I chair, and then those powers can be executed on behalf of local authorities if they are needed.”

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