Letter to producers of health and social care statistics in England – OSR Covid Lessons Learned report

Dear Colleagues,

Today, the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) has published its review; Improving health and social care statistics: lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. I am writing to senior officials in bodies responsible for health and social care statistics in England to ask for your support in implementing the recommendations from this review.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a huge public appetite for data and statistics. You should be proud of the remarkable efforts of analysts in your organisations to meet this demand, overcoming challenges which would previously have seemed insurmountable.

The pandemic has also drawn attention to existing challenges for health and social care statistics. I am sure you would agree that the health system needs both to learn lessons and to build on its achievements in this area.

In England the number of organisations responsible for the production and publication of health data and statistics creates additional complexity. Strong leadership and collaboration are required across these organisations, so that shared priorities can be identified, and publication plans can be coordinated. This will create a clearer and more coherent picture for users and enable the system to be more responsive to emerging user needs. As senior leaders your support for the work of analysts in your organisation and across the health system will be vital in achieving this.

I have copied this letter to Lucy Vickers, Head of Profession for Statistics, Department of Health and Social Care; Chris Roebuck, Chief Statistician, NHS Digital; Mark Svenson, Head of Operational Information and Head of Profession for Statistics, NHS England and Improvement; and Emma Rourke, Director of Health Analysis & Pandemic Insight, Office for National Statistics.

Yours sincerely,

Sir David Norgrove

This letter was sent to the following:

  • Chris Wormald, Permanent Secretary, Department of Health and Social Care
  • Simon Bolton, Chief Executive, NHS Digital
  • Amanda Pritchard, Chief Executive, NHS England
  • Sir Ian Diamond, National Statistician, Office for National Statistics
  • Jenny Harries, Chief Executive, UK Health Security Agency

Annie wells to Sir Ian Diamond – Misleading statistics used by the Scottish Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery. 

Dear Sir Ian,

Misleading statistics used by the Scottish Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery.

I write to you regarding the above matter.

You may be aware of recent media reports concerning statistics that were used by the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery, John Swinney MSP.

In a graphic posted online, Mr Swinney made various claims about the effectiveness of wearing masks to prevent Covid, most of which appear to be unfounded. International fact checking websites have previously investigated some of the claims and found them to be at least partly false.

After reports emerged in the Scottish press, the Deputy First Minister, via a spokesperson, refused to provide a source for the information in the graphic. Neither was it deleted.

The First Minister subsequently said she would “reflect” on the use of the graphic but 24 hours later, it still had not been deleted, nor had the Scottish Government provided a source for the information.

At the time of this statement these statistics were not available in the public domain. They appear to be unverified and misleading, at best. The Scottish Government have been asked to release the statistics repeatedly and refused to do so. Neither have they formally corrected the information and deleted the erroneous statistics.

The correct use of statistics is vital, particularly when issuing public health guidance during a pandemic. As such, I would be grateful if you could investigate this matter and take appropriate action as you see fit.

Yours sincerely,

Annie Wells MSP

Glasgow Region

Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care

Related links:

Response from Sir David Norgrove to Annie Wells – July 2021


Annie Wells to Sir Ian Diamond – Hospital admission statistics

Dear Sir Ian, 

Misleading statistics used by the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Health. 

 I write to you regarding the above matter. 

You may be aware of recent media reports concerning statistics that were used by the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Humza Yousaf, regarding hospitalisations of children and COVID-19. 

In an interview on BBC Radio Scotland on 2nd June 2021 around 8:10am,  Mr Yousaf said the following: ‘When I look at the hospital figures for last week, there was 10 young children – 0-9 years old – who were hospitalised because of COVID’. 

At the time of this statement these statistics were not available in the public domain. When the Scottish Government were asked for the statistics, not only did they take a day to release them, the released statistics showed that the figure used by Mr Yousaf was not actually for children being treated primarily for COVID-19. Instead he had quoted statistics for hospital admissions (a category which can include patients who have COVID-19 without any symptom but test positive on arrival or during stays). 

Health experts, including those from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, have had to reassure parents that there are very few children in hospital in Scotland due to COVID-19. They added that very small number of admissions who test positive for COVID-19 is expected. 

Mr Yousaf’s comments caused needless alarm and were a misuse of statistics. I am sure that you would agree that the correct use of statistics is paramount, especially during a public health crisis. I would be grateful if you could investigate this matter and take appropriate action as you see fit. 

Yours sincerely, 

Annie Wells MSP


Related links:

Response from Sir David Norgrove to Annie Wells MSP – Hospital admissions data

Assessment of the UK employment and jobs statistics

Dear Jonathan


We have today published our assessment report covering these statistics. I am grateful for the positive contribution and engagement from your team throughout the assessment process.

The employment and jobs statistics are key economic indicators that are essential for understanding the patterns and dynamics of the UK labour market. They are used widely by a variety of users, for example within UK Government and by the Bank of England to develop and monitor government policies. Statistics that inform the public, business and devolved governments really matter, and it is important that they are accurate, high quality and clear to fully serve the public good, especially during this anxious period of uncertainty.

The report highlights the issue of change. The labour market and economy are in constant change, and the statistics that describe the labour market must adapt to reflect those changes. The report highlights changes that ONS has already made in response to changes in the nature of work and to new data sources; and further improvements we consider necessary. The most significant change at present is of course the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. This will have a dual impact on the statistics: in terms of how you collect the data on the economy, and because of changes in patterns of employment as a direct result of the outbreak.

Our report identifies areas of good practice. In particular, we found strong evidence that the labour market statistics team collaborates closely and engages effectively with a wide range of users and stakeholders. Many users told us that the statistics team is approachable and helpful to users; for example, they appreciated the way that it publicly defends the estimates and challenges inappropriate use of the statistics.

Our report also highlights a number of improvements that we consider necessary – across the three pillars of the Code of Practice for Statistics – to enhance the public value, quality, and trustworthiness of the statistics. Fulfilling the requirements of this assessment will ensure that these statistics can continue to be designated as National Statistics. There is a need for more discussion in the statistical bulletins of the reasons for change and the statistical uncertainty around the changes. We welcome the steps the labour market team has made so far to include uncertainty; however, it is not fully reflected in the bulletins, which means users may jump to the conclusion that the numbers in the bulletins and tables are precise. Expanding the commentary and including further information on uncertainty will help users better interpret trends in of employment and jobs.

There is also an increasing demand for good quality data on self-employment, measures of job quality, vacancies and data on emerging industries and sectors. We welcome ONS’s initiatives, for example, to use real time information from HM Revenue & Customs. ONS needs to demonstrate drive and ambition to fill the data gaps and match the pace of change in the labour market, engaging effectively with users to ensure their needs are met. This is a challenge for ONS, especially at the current time when COVID-19 is dramatically changing the way that Labour Force Survey data are collected, and having an impact on work more broadly. We recognise these challenges and support your work to maintain data quality while prioritising the protection of the health of survey respondents and the interviewer workforce during the current crisis. We also recognise that the response may influence data collection and statistical production beyond the lifespan of the outbreak. We encourage you to do what you can to ensure that users are fully informed of the latest developments, and implications for the use of the statistics.

We will be supportive of producers as they work in these challenging times. We recognise that there may be additional challenges in meeting some of the requirements in our report due to the impact of COVID-19. Our report asks for a quarterly update, and we encourage you to keep my team abreast of progress so that we can discuss what flexibilities would be appropriate. Please feel free to discuss any aspect of this assessment with me or my team at any time. I am copying this letter to David Freeman, head of labour market statistics.

Yours sincerely
Ed Humpherson
Director General for Regulation

Related Links:

Assessment Report: UK employment and jobs statistics (March 2020)

Devolved Labour Market Compliance Check (March 2020)