Thursday, 2 June 2011

You are now entering The Twilight Zone, courtesy of Lansley, Cameron et al

My third post (this is my first post - boo, it's long; and this is my second - yay, it's short) on basically the same topic. Bit boring? Yes. Repetitive? Sure. Necessary? ABSOLUTELY!

Last night (Wednesday 1 June), the Telegraph published this article, penned by Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley. In it, he writes:

"We know that some of our outcomes for common conditions like cancer and strokes are not as good as they should be in comparison to the rest of Europe. For example, if our cancer survival rates were at the European average, we know we would save 5,000 extra lives a year. The same can be said of heart disease, where we could save 750 lives every year if our care was equivalent to the average in Europe"

I can't help but shake my head as I read this back. And the shaking occurs no matter how many times I read it back.

I refuse to play by the rules of this particularly repugnant game. The game is called Politics. And the rules are:

1. Make unsubstantiated claims to justify your political aims
2. Convert your claims into facts
3. Use said facts as compelling evidence for your political aims
3. Ignore the small minority that bothers to check your claims masquerading as facts
4. Repeat your dodgy facts as many times and in many different places as you possibly can (even better, share the load with your colleagues, and get them to peddle the same bilge)
5. Wait for small minority to lose the will
6. Sit back and enjoy as your unsubstantiated claims are increasingly accepted as facts

A refusal to follow rule number 5 explains my third blog post on this topic.

Having done a bit more digging, the first time that I can find reference to the 5,000 lives figure is in a Department of Health press release dated 3 October 2010. After that, we've got Improving Outcomes: A Strategy for Cancer, published by the Department of Health on 12 January 2011. Page 5 of the strategy states:

"Through the approaches this Strategy sets out, we aim to save an additional 5,000 lives every year by 2014/15"

Hold on, that's not nearly so juicy. Oh no, wait. Here we go. Page 7:

"To put this in context, if England was to achieve cancer survival rates at the European average, then 5,000 lives would be saved every year"

I guess it makes perfect political sense to quickly jump from an aspiration of saving 5,000 lives per year by 2014/15 (aiming to do something years in the future - yawn, that's not a good, instant soundbite, nor a compelling fact to justify major changes) to claiming that 5,000 lives per year could be saved right now (wow! Really? Change the NHS right away. Like now! What are you waiting for?).

There are four figures that have been wheeled out repeatedly as 'facts' to justify the NHS reforms. Indeed, the Government's glossy leaflet published on 6 June 2011 states that three of these 'facts' alone "compel us to modernise and improve our NHS".

When you add the four figures together, they amount to a claim that we could save 8,300 lives per year (5,000 lives from cancer; 2,000 lives from respiratory disease; 750 lives from heart disease; 550 lives from chronic live disease and cirrhosis) right now.

This is a huge claim. And to date, only one source has been made available to support a single one of the disease groups. And that source, relating to the 5,000 lives from cancer, was debunked (a tad harsh - nothing wrong with the actual source. The problem is how it has been twisted and used by politicians) weeks ago both here and here.

I first asked the Department of Health for the sources of their lives saved per year figures almost two months ago. Since then, I have asked both the Department and Number 10 for the sources more than two dozen times.

So far, I have received one reply, which by anyone's standards is a bit rubbish:

 Chris Mason 

Come on now - somebody, somewhere must have the will and the clout to put Cameron, Lansley, Burstow or Burns on the spot, and make them justify and provide the sources for these incredible claims.

Failing that, do at the very least join me in a daily 15 second task to tweet the Department of Health and Number 10 requesting the sources:

 Chris Mason 


Wordle: The Twilight Zone

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