Concerns have been raised that the number of positive cases of coronavirus in Cornwall are being under reported and could be FOUR times higher.
The Government has been issuing figures regularly on the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
But it has been claimed that these only include tests which have been carried out in certain settings which mean that the real number of positive results is not being made public.
And while the full data is now being made available to local public health officials that only changed in recent weeks.
In Cornwall it has been reported that since the beginning of May there have been 85 positive cases recorded in the county.
However the true number is claimed to be more than 350 – more than four times higher than the published figure.
The full number of positive cases recorded in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has been reported as 594. But if that does not include all tests undertaken in Cornwall it could be much higher.
Cornwall Council was unable to confirm the numbers saying that it is unable to share the data without the permission of Public Health England and said that if it breached that agreement it could lose access to the data.
The issue has been highlighted by Cornwall councillor Colin Martin who is vice chairman of the council’s health and adult social care overview and scrutiny committee.
He explained that there are two sets of figures which are collected by the government known as pillar one and pillar two tests.
The first set covers all tests which are undertaken at hospitals and at the testing centres which are run nationally by Public Health England.
But the second set covers all tests which are undertaken at mobile testing centres which have been set up around Cornwall and any done by post, including those at care homes.
The discrepancy in reporting the figures was laid bare last week when the official statistics claimed that there had been just three positive case in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly when it had been widely reported that an outbreak had occurred at a Liskeard care home with 11 people testing positive.
Cllr Martin said: “The figures put out by the government include people tested in hospital or staff tested at the centres which have been set up in Threemilestone and Liskeard for people who work in health and social care.
“They don’t include anyone tested in mobile test sites and those by post, which includes many of the tests in care homes.
“Any positive results are not shown on the spreadsheets which are given out each day.
“What is missing is the pillar two figures. It was most obvious last week – a care home had 11 cases in Liskeard. But officially we were told that Cornwall had three.
“The government has not been telling the true number of cases as they are ignoring all of those in pillar two.
“Up until two weeks ago they were not telling public health officials the true figures, but they have now been giving us those figures.
“The pillar two tests started in May – on the government spreadsheet it states there have been 85 positive cases from the beginning of May. The true number is more like 350 – that is lab confirmed cases.
“As of two weeks ago the director of public health in Cornwall was shown that figure and shown positive cases data that shows that South East Cornwall has a three times higher rate of infections than other parts of Cornwall.”
The Lostwithiel councillor said that by restricting the data which was being provided to public health officials the government was making it difficult for them to draw up the local outbreak plans which they are required to do.
He said: “The council has been told that by the end of the month to come up with an outbreak plan but the government doesn’t tell us the data about how many people are testing positive.
“The government is saying that local councils will step in with intervention if there is a local outbreak – you can’t do that without the data.”
Cllr Martin said that he would like to see Cornwall Council and public health officials set up their own testing system to ensure that it is prepared should there be an outbreak.
“I would like to see Cornwall set up its own testing and tracing service.
“We have the capacity in the hospital to test our own health and care staff. We should open that up to anyone in Cornwall to be tested in our local system.
“We will have the contact information that we need from people so that we can follow up with others if they test positive.
“In that way we could have tests done and have the results by the end of the day and then immediately start following up with contacts.”
The Department of Health said that the Government is committed to publishing data on test results in due course to ensure it is accessible to the public. Directors of public health have access to data.
They added that “the priority has always been to ensure that public health bodies, such as Public Health England (PHE), have the data they need. PHE then share relevant data with their locally based health protection teams, who work with local councils and directors of public health”.
It adds: “It should be noted that PHE routinely share data with local directors of public health to support outbreak management, including pillar 2 data.”
The department said that positive test data, including postcodes, was provided to local councils and directors of public health from June 24.
A Government spokesperson said: “The Government’s priority is to protect the public and save lives. We have been working closely with our local partners, providing them with the resources and tools they need to take swift action to deal with any new spikes in infections.”
In a statement Cornwall Council said: “Like other local authorities across the country we’ve been frustrated by the lack of transparency in the way localised Covid-19 data is released by the government – this is a complex, ever-evolving situation and having accurate, up-to-date information is vital if we are to continue keeping our residents safe and minimise the spread of the virus.
“Unfortunately there are a number of discrepancies with the pillar two testing figures supplied to us by Public Health England, and our public health team is in the process of verifying this information in order to accurately reflect what we know about cases of Covid-19 in Cornwall.
“We are not permitted to share the data without Public Health England’s permission, and any breach of that agreement would risk PHE withdrawing their data provision, which would inevitably have serious implications for our population as a whole and our ability to respond to the pandemic. We hope to have an agreement in place with PHE soon which will allow us to do so.
“The discrepancies in the data have not in any way hindered our ability to produce our Local Outbreak Management Plan or our response to the pandemic. Our number one priority is the health and wellbeing of our residents, and we will continue use all data available to us to support our health and care system.”