Data on how far people travel to get a Covid-19 test isn’t all that useful
17th Sep 2020
The average distance travelled to a Covid-19 test centre is now 5.8 miles, down from 6.4 miles last week.
This distance is one-way, measured as the crow flies and does not include people who turn down a test based on distance.
“The vast majority of people who use our testing service get a test that is close to home, and the average distance travelled to a test site is now just 5.8 miles - down from 6.4 miles last week.”
Matt Hancock, 15 September 2020
“Just in the last week, the average distance that people have had to go for a test has come down from 6 or 7 miles to 5 miles.”
Boris Johnson, 16 September 2020
It has been claimed by both the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary that the average distance travelled to a coronavirus testing site is now 5.8 miles, down from 6.4 miles last week.
This is based on government data, which covers England only. Some limited information on how these figures have been calculated was made publicly available on 16 September. Based on what we do know, there are some issues with the figures given.
One issue is that the distance between the location of a person registering for a test and the location of the test centre is measured as a straight line, as the crow flies. This does not account for the fact that the journey to a test centre is very unlikely to be in a straight line, and is likely to be further as a result.
For example, for someone living in the centre of Hull, a trip to the testing centre at the Humber Bridge Car Parks is 4.52 miles as the crow flies, but 7.5 miles to drive on the quickest route. The figures also only show the distance to travel one-way, meaning the total distance travelled will be twice this.
The latest data shows the median average distance travelled one-way fell from 6.4 miles between 1 September and 7 September to 5.8 miles between 8 September and 14 September. It also showed that 25% of people made a one-way trip of over 13.3 miles for a test, 10% travelled over 27.8 miles and 5% travelled over 47.3 miles.
The government’s methodology states the figures are calculated based on tests registered successfully at regional test sites, local test sites or mobile testing units, including people who do not subsequently turn up to their appointment at the test site.
This does not include people who fill in their details trying to book a test, and then decline to make an appointment once they see how far away their recommended testing site is.
This means that the data doesn’t really tell us whether the problem of people being offered very distant tests is getting better or worse.
On 7 September, Mr Hancock told LBC people would now be offered tests within 75 miles, which he said “is still quite a hike”.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care the “vast majority” of people are getting tested “within six miles of their home”, and testing capacity is being targeted in the areas that need it most.