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Was a data glitch behind additional COVID-19 deaths in England?

Was a data glitch behind additional COVID-19 deaths in England?

It’s been a year when Excel spreadsheets have made the news for all the wrong reasons. So, you could be forgiven for missing the media reporting of another spreadsheet error. However, what makes this one so important, is the fact that it may have led to more than 1500 preventable deaths.

What happened?

On 3 October Public Health England revealed that, due to a technical error, at least 15,841 individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 between 20 September and 2 October had not been referred to the national contact tracing system - NHS Test and Trace.

Economists Thiemo Fetzer and Thomas Graeber at Warwick University who uncovered the technical error have since undertaken a study to demonstrate the effects of this preventable incident. They claim that it may have led to more than 125,000 additional infections and in excess of 1,500 preventable deaths, because people who had been exposed to a Covid sufferer were not told to self-isolate.

What was the cause?

The technical error, or data glitch, was due to an Excel spreadsheet reaching its maximum file size. And it has also been reported that the loss of case information was more severe for some areas of England than others. Add to this the fact that there was a delay in contact tracing and it’s easy to see how this might have contributed to a spike in new cases and deaths prior to the November lockdown.

One-off random event

Kiran Jalota, Solicitor and Head of Medical Negligence said, “With failures apparent on so many levels, we are hopeful that this is a one-off random event. However, what has come out of this is the importance of a well-functioning and robust contact tracing system in our fight against COVID-19. Mask wearing, social distancing, better hygiene (hand washing etc) can all help, but there is no substitute for self-isolation when you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive.”

Kiran continues, “Whilst Public Heath England have publicly disputed the findings from Warwick University, we are here to help if you or a family member think that you may have been affected by this.”

Free initial meeting for support and advice

We have a vast amount of experience in medical negligence, meaning we help and support you during the process. And thanks to our network of offices covering Leamington, Coventry, Nuneaton and Southam we are very accessible too. For timely and quality advice, please contact Kiran Jalota Head of Medical Negligence and Personal Injury at Alsters Kelley Solicitors Ltd on 01926 356030 or email

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