Wednesday, 14 March 2012

My love-hate relationship with Hansard (aka UUU spotting)

The Health and Social Care (H&SC) Bill was debated in the House of Commons again yesterday (Tuesday 13 March, 2012) - the full transcript is available here.

As usual, I wasn't impressed with the majority of contributions, but what I continue to find astounding and alarming is the number of times that... shall we call them unfortunate, unintended untruths (UUUs)... occur during these debates.

Not only do they occur, they go unchallenged and uncorrected (which arguably makes them UUUUUs).

A very quick scan of the transcript produced the following three (and trust me, there will be many more).

Unfortunate, unintended untruth number one - MRSA rates

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend share my absolute astonishment at Labour Members’ collective amnesia when it comes to the 13 years of mixed-sex wards and rising levels of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and C. difficile that they presided over, along with a failed patient record system that has cost billions?

MRSA figures are reported by the Health Protection Agency - results for the last 10 years are available here. And here's a graph plotting the MRSA rate over that time period. I'll give you two guesses as to whether or not you think that trend line is rising... go on, stick your neck out.

Unfortunate, unintended untruth number two - A&E data

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Andrew Lansley): We know that it is necessary for us to reform in order to deliver the improvements that the NHS needs, as well as the sustainability that it needs. We are not even speculating about this; we can demonstrate that it is happening. This is in contrast to what the right hon. Member for Leigh said. He said that he was not scaremongering, then he got up and did just that. He scaremongered all over again. He went to a completely different set of data on the four-hour A and E provision, for example. He went to the faulty monitoring data, which are completely different from the ones that we have always used in the past—namely, the hospital episodes statistics data, which demonstrate that we are continuing to meet the 95% target.

This is a bit technical, but basically the above is completely the wrong way round. It's actually the A&E HES data that is new. The Information Centre still describes it as experimental statistics. The Quarterly Monitoring of Accident and Emergency (QMAE) return is the long established data source, still described by the Information Centre as "the official source of A&E information".

Unfortunate, unintended untruth number three - cost savings associated with the H&SC Bill

Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): More hours have been given to debating this Bill than any other during this Session. Despite Labour’s message, which seems to be opposition for opposition’s sake, we are gradually learning what its policy will be for the next general election. According to the Opposition, this is the greatest reorganisation in history. Yet the Bill will save £4.5 billion straight away and then £1.5 billion recurrently, year on year, thereafter.
Er, what?!? The H&SC Bill will save £4.5 billion straight away... like what, the instant it's passed? Bizarre. And then it will save £1.5 billion every year after that. If either of those two claims were true, this would be the most economical piece of legislation in the history of the world. The NHS budget for 2011/12 is around £106 billion - according to Mr Skidmore, the H&SC Bill will mean that there will be no need for any NHS budget by the year 2080.

Oh, hang on just a minute, not spending any money on the NHS... hmmm, now there's an idea. Clever, Mr Skidmore. But of course our Government would never consider such a thing, and the H&SC Bill will in no way inch us towards it...

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