Public health expert calls on government advisors to share scientific findings

19 May 2020, 13:27 | Updated: 19 May 2020, 13:37

By Seán Hickey

Health experts are calling for the government's scientific advisors to share their research so they can understand the UK's strategy.

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam yesterday assured the press that the government are "following the science" as they work out a safe way to reopen schools, but Tom Swarbrick spoke to a former colleague of Professor Van-Tam who revealed that this science is kept under wraps and is leaving medical professionals in the dark.

Dr Bharat Pankhania is a lecturer in public health medicine at the University of Exeter, and a former consultant on controlling the spread of diseases for Public Health England. Tom asked him about the announcements of Professor Van-Tam and asked how certain the evidence is that "children are not super spreaders."

"We would like to know where is that evidence" Dr Pankhania said, revealing that the evidence is being kept under lock and key which is creating a disconnect between government procedure and medical professionals who are supposed to scrutinise the science. He told Tom that medical professionals are calling on the information to be shared because they want to be able to tell the public that it makes sense, but at the moment they cannot say anything.

Tom moved on to ask about the potential risk to teachers in a school reopening. "What has the science so far said about the possibility of children spreading this to their teachers" he asked Dr Pankhania. The public health expert maintained the stance that professionals "don't know" as the science is still being kept under wraps, even for experts in public health.

Professor Van-Tam insisted that the science he is following is indicating it is safe for schools to reopen
Professor Van-Tam insisted that the science he is following is indicating it is safe for schools to reopen. Picture: PA

"ONS figures show that children's infection rates are the same as that for adults" Dr Pankhania told Tom, but added that "what we don't now is are they as infectious as what adults are."

Dr Pankhania was hopeful that medical professionals may be able to see the details of the science Professor Van-Tam was referring to and he can then come back with a better response. He went on to point out that "when they've said that they're following the science, often they've got it wrong" and this is a point of worry for him not being able to access the information.

"We would dearly like to know what science he's looking at" he repeated for Tom. The expert stressed the point that it is vital that this information is open to the public so we understand how action is being taken.

Dr Pankhania reminded listeners that "in the past the information from SAGE meetings was published" and it was easier for people and medical experts to discuss the UK's coronavirus strategy, but "now they're not publishing the material we're a little bit lost."

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