Boris Johnson’s claim that health officials in Leicester had full access to testing data before last Thursday was wrong, a health minister appears to have confirmed.
He asked “why was the Government so slow to act” to implement a lockdown in Leicester after it knew of a spike in virus cases.
During PMQs, he told the Commons: “At the daily press conference on June 18 the Health Secretary said ‘there’s an outbreak of Covid-19 right now in parts of Leicester’.
“Yet it was only on Monday evening this week that the Government introduced restrictions.
“That’s a delay of 11 days during which the virus was spreading in Leicester.
“Why was the Government so slow to act?”
And he noted the local authority had only been given access to the full testing data last Thursday, June 25 – a full week after the outbreak was acknowledged.
He said: “One of the problems in Leicester was that the local authority only had half of the data. They had data for pillar 1 tests – that’s NHS, care workers and tests in hospitals.
“They didn’t have pillar 2 tests, the wider tests in the community.
“That may sound technical but what that meant was that the local authority thought there were 80 positive tests in the last fortnight, when the real figure was 944.
“The local authority was only given the real figure last Thursday. So there was a lost week while the virus was spreading.”
But the PM insisted Mr Starmer was “mistaken.”
He said: “Both pillar 1 and pillar 2 data had been shared not just with Leicester, but with all authorities across the country.
“We did in Leicester exactly what we did in Kirklees or in Bradford or in Western Super Mare or other places where effective ‘whack a mole’ strategies have been put in place.”
But moments afterward, Health Minister Nadine Dorries appeared to confirm Mr Starmer was not, in fact, mistaken.
In a Twitter exchange with Labour’s Shadow Mental Health minister Dr Rosena Allin Khan, Ms Dorries wrote: “This data was made available to all authorities on the 22nd.
“Most accessed it using an authentication code on the 24th, the rest (Leicester) on the 25th.”
“It isn’t publicly available yet, but that will hopefully change soon.”
Labour MP Yvette Cooper tweeted that health authorities in her constituency in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, had been trying to get hold of local Pillar 2 testing data but had not been able to.
She tweeted: “Our local public health teams, council, NHS doctors & managers in Wakefield have had to fight for months to try to get this data.
“In public health crisis, most important thing is knowing where infection is. Appalling & incomprehensible that basic info hasn’t been provided.
“The idea this could have been Ministerial choice rather than failure of competence is even more shocking.
“What on earth is going on? Transparency & trust are basic currencies for dealing with public health crises. Pls, pls Govt, don’t keep screwing this up.”
Leicester mayor Sir Peter Soulsby criticised the Government and Public Health England (PHE) for delays in sharing case and testing data which showed how the disease was spreading.
He said he had been trying “for weeks” to access data on the level of testing in the city and was only given access last Thursday.
Sir Peter said: “The Secretary of State (Matt Hancock) announced that he believed there was an outbreak in Leicester the best part of two weeks ago.
“Since then, we’ve been struggling to get information from them (the Government) about what data they had, what led them to believe there was a particular problem here, and struggling to get them to keep the level of testing in Leicester.”
He added he has been trying “for weeks” to access data on the level of testing in the city and was only given access last Thursday.