It’s a well-known fact, of course, that 87% of all statistics are made up. But as this site regularly observes, if you’re the Scottish opposition and media there’s no need to invent fake ones when you can twist the real ones to present an image completely at odds with the reality.
The Sunday Times today has some fine examples of the craft of massaging figures for the purposes of deception. It carries two separate scare stories on the NHS, both of them using figures which aren’t based on any sort of news, but on opposition spin on existing stats. One comes from the Tories, under a dramatic headline:
The banner is pulling a classic trick – the £685m figure is actually the total sum spent in a decade, not the single year that most people would assume (since there’s no good reason to measure spending in decades, so headlines usually don’t do it). But remarkably it’s just about the most honest thing in the paper’s health coverage today.
The article goes on to note:
“The private healthcare bill for Scottish taxpayers hit £78.5m in 2015-16, new figures show. That compares with £61m when the nationalists came to power.”
Which is an interesting way to present the comparison, because £61m in 2007 money adjusted for inflation is actually, um, £78m.
The other attack is based on a Labour press release.
This is another classic of spin. NHS Scotland has had the best A&E waiting-time stats of anywhere in the UK every month for almost two years now, so it’s difficult to put a negative slant on figures when they show over 93% of patients being treated within the target time, especially when the equivalent numbers in England and Wales are significantly worse (at 84% and 78% respectively).
But if you can’t make the percentages sound bad, then simply saying “91,788 people” makes it sound like a lot by presenting it without any context about the 1.7 million or so who WERE seen promptly. And it helps if you also leave out the context of the previous year, because Labour forgot to mention that they pulled the exact same trick almost word-for-word (this time in the Daily Record) 12 months ago:
Compared to the figures for 2015, the number of patients having to wait longer than the target times for treatment FELL in every category: by 420 (0.5%) for those waiting more than four hours, by 1099 (13%) for those waiting more than eight hours, and by 263 (20%) for those waiting more than 12 hours.
Cutting the numbers of patients suffering extended delays by 13% and 20% is pretty impressive progress in a single year, an impartial observer might think, and having 19 out of every 20 people treated within the shortest target isn’t too shabby either for a service under as much pressure as the NHS.
But on reading today’s Sunday Times you’d come away with the impression that healthcare in Scotland is collapsing, an idea reinforced by a column of near-hysterical doom-and-gloomery from Gillian Bowditch in the same edition.
(Exactly THREE women were diverted from the QEUH maternity unit, and they were sent to hospitals elsewhere in Glasgow, not left to give birth in the gutter.)
None of the pieces contain anything that’s technically untrue. But by juggling the stats with spin, selectivity and omission of context they tell a story that’s as good as a lie.