THE number of people testing positive for Covid-19 in the borough is high because of early testing by the trust which runs Basingstoke hospital, according to members of a local public services forum.

Responding to the Gazette’s front page story last week which revealed Basingstoke has the highest number of people testing positive for the virus in Hampshire, members of the Local Resilience Forum (LRF) explained why the figure appears to be worse locally, and offered reassurance that it isn’t because people have not followed lockdown rules.

Simon Bryant, director of Public Health for Hampshire County Council, explained that the figure is accumulative, showing the number of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 throughout the duration of the pandemic.

He said early and efficient testing by Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Basingstoke hospital, has meant that more people have been tested.

“It’s not become more prevalent, we tested more people,” he explained, adding: “Hampshire Hospitals were fast to set up Covid testing so as they tested more people, they found more people.”

“As our capacity for testing increased, you will find that our rate of infection is connected to our ability to test,” he said. “That’s why we saw the number of people who tested positive in Hampshire was far higher than other areas.”

He said the rate of infection in Basingstoke and Deane on June 1 was 411.4 per 100,000 people. This compares to 835 per 100,000 people in the worst area, Barrow-in-Furness.

Mr Bryant said that early testing in Basingstoke meant that more people in care homes and key workers were tested.

However, he was unable to provide figures regarding the number of tests and how many more have been carried out locally than other areas.

He said the LRF has been monitoring the situation locally to make sure there isn’t a problem in Hampshire, adding: “When we looked, we could see that Hampshire Hospitals testing was increased. We could see their testing capacity increased so that’s where we knew it came from.”

Neil Odin, chair of the LRF, offered reassurance that they aren’t trying to “hide the real numbers”, adding: “We are all in this together and our duty is to prevent the spread of infection.”

He suggested: “There’s a real danger of misinterpreting the numbers which scare the life out of the community.”

He was adamant that the figure does not reflect the behaviour of people in Basingstoke during lockdown, adding: “It’s in all our interest to be honest and if there’s an outbreak it’s not about hiding it.”

Mr Bryant said cases are now falling locally, however Dr Matt Nisbet, a GP at Crown Heights Medical Centre in Basingstoke, said this doesn’t mean people can be complacent.

He added: “Basingstoke isn’t the worst place in the country, but the fact that there are no cases to be reported on any given day doesn’t mean people can be complacent.”

He said the early testing in Basingstoke had helped keep GP surgeries functioning, explaining: “It’s been fantastic that our hospital is ahead of the curve in setting up testing because our practice staff were able to be tested so we haven’t had a big problem with absentees.”