This is my first blog as interim Chief Statistician for Wales. Taking up the reins during the pandemic period has inevitably been challenging, with statistics and evidence being in such demand and so high profile.
It has however, been equally rewarding to see how the statistical service across Wales has risen to that challenge, and collaborated, adapted and innovated at a rapid pace to provide the evidence needed to inform the response to the pandemic.
In our Chief Statistician blog of June 2020, we outlined the new statistical outputs we had put in place in light of the coronavirus outbreak to keep users informed, and given the need to prioritise resource towards that, the changes we needed to make to our existing data collections and scheduled outputs. The purpose of this blog is to give you an update on our plans, particularly where we needed to postpone collections earlier in the year without a firm proposal, but also to provide the opportunity for you to feed in your thoughts on the sometimes difficult choices we need to make.
It will come as no surprise that the requirement for trusted and timely evidence related to coronavirus remains our priority. The list of new outputs is now too long to list in full but includes regular information on testing, contact tracing, NHS capacity, care homes, and attendance at schools. We also now publish survey data on the prevalence of the infection itself (of which more later) and information on public attitudes and behaviours. Our Data Science and Administrative Data Research Unit have been using research and admin datasets in detailed and innovative ways to increase the evidence base, for example, looking at children in shielded households. These outputs are pre-announced and published through our statistics and research website, and brought together through this Coronavirus (COVID-19) analysis collection page. This suite of outputs will continue to evolve and develop.
This new priority, as over the past 8 months, requires us to redeploy some of our resource towards this area, and in light of this we therefore continue to need to review, adapt and prioritise our other statistical collections and outputs.
We made the decision back in March that the majority of data collections from public bodies would be suspended. For some returns, it was necessary to cancel in full, whilst others were postponed pending further discussion as the situation developed. We have been putting in place plans for these collections on an individual basis, taking into account the importance of the data, including its relevance to the pandemic, alongside the ability and capacity of data suppliers to provide the information. Some of the collections postponed earlier in the year are now beginning to take place. We have published an update on the position for each individual collection. Even where collections are going ahead, there may be further implications in terms of the availability and quality of the data, which we will need to consider further down the line. We will always ensure users are told about any limitations with the data we have collected.
There has been an impact on surveys carried out across the Government Statistical Service with all face-to-face interviewing for government social surveys suspended in March. Our own National Survey for Wales has adapted to provide regular timely information related to the current situation, carried out as a telephone survey with previous respondents, and published on a monthly, and now quarterly, basis.
We are still learning about the impact of this shift from face-to-face interviewing to phone interviewing. As Office for National Statistics (ONS) found with the Labour Force Survey, we may reach different groups of people through phone surveys, which can have an impact on the estimates we produce. Further detail on this is available through the ONS blog, and the impact on the figures for Wales is explained in our Key economic statistics release. This is not a one-time consideration and will be something that we will continue to need to reflect on in coming months, across the range of surveys we use, and will keep users aware of any implications in our outputs.
Since the end of June fieldwork has been carried out in Wales for the ONS COVID-19 Infection Survey, to help track the extent of infection of COVID-19 in the community. We have been publishing our own weekly summary of estimates for Wales since early August. The survey is a useful additional source in monitoring the situation and trend in Wales, as the random testing of a representative population sample will include those without coronavirus symptoms, who might not normally seek testing.
Many of our users will be aware over the course of the pandemic we have taken decisions to postpone, or even cancel some of our regular outputs. All of these decisions have been shared through our release calendar. Some of this has been necessary because it has not been possible, or no longer relevant, to collect this data from our suppliers. In other cases, we have made our publications shorter, focusing on the key messages. This year’s Wellbeing of Wales report is one example of this. This has often come with the added benefit of being able to publish bilingually and in a more accessible format. But it does come at the expense of more detailed commentary and insight. We would welcome your feedback on this approach.
As the pandemic evolves we will continue to need to prioritise and make choices. We don’t make these decisions lightly and always have user needs in mind when making any changes. We work closely with many of our users, including through groups like our Welsh Statistical Liaison Committee, and Third Sector User Panel. The feedback from these groups has helped to shape the decisions we’ve made so far.
Please do use this opportunity to get in touch through firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any further feedback. As always we will continue to be open and transparent about our decisions, and value your input into this process.
Interim Chief Statistician