What’s going on at the BBC – deliberate massaging of statistics or careless error?

From stewartb:

The BBC News website today (14 October) publishes an article headlined ‘GPs told to see more patients in person as A&E waits worsen’. It’s written by its specialist Health Correspondent.

(Source https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-58904557 )

On A&E performance, we learn here that: ‘In September (2021) a quarter of patients who came to A&E in England waited longer than four hours for treatment.’ And we are told: ‘That is the worst performance since 2004, when the four-hour target was brought in.

Notwithstanding the sloppy reference to ‘longer than four hours for treatment’ – the formal performance standard is NOT defined in quite this way – this BBC reporting appears to indicate that in NHS England in September the treatment of just 75% of patients attending A&E met the four hours standard measure of performance.

Unlike BBC Scotland, this Health Correspondent is keen to put NHS England’s performance in ‘perspective’. We are told: ‘Performance in the rest of the UK is even worse with four in 10 patients in Northern Ireland waiting over four hours, according to latest data.’ (my emphasis)

Because this claim comes from the BBC, as an ever alert and sceptical reader I decided to check on the ‘even worse’ claim. Something didn’t ring true!

The authoritative NHS England source is a document entitled: ‘A&E Attendances and Emergency Admissions September 2021 Statistical Commentary

(https://www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2021/10/Statistical-commentary-September-2021-jf8.pdf )

It reports that: ’75.2% of patients were seen within 4 hours in all A&E departments this month ..’ This presumably is where the BBC Health Correspondent is getting the ‘quarter of patients …. waited longer than four hours information.

But note in the NHS England document the explicit reference to ‘all A&E departments. Crucially, the same NHS source tells us this: ’64.0% of patients were seen within 4 hours in type 1 A&E departments ..’

Now type 1 A&E departments are the ones that most people would recognise as ‘A&E’ – like the one featuring in the TV series Casualty’.  And 64% is a lot worse than 75% is it not?  So why does the BBC – who must know the difference between ‘type 1’ and ‘all’ A&E departments (and presumably the big difference between 64% and 75%!) – opt to report in this way?  (The Radio 4 PM programme has just repeated multiple times the one in four, the 75%, rather than the 64% performance!)  Is 64% just too bad to be acknowledged?

But the matter does not end there. Recall the claim: ’Performance in the rest of the UK is even worse’. Is it?

According to the NHS Performs website, the A&E performance by NHS Scotland against the four hour standard in September, 2021 was as follows:

For ‘Main Sites’ (equivalent to type 1 sites in England) – for each of the four weeks in September 2021 the figures in NHS Scotland were: 74.6%, 71.5%, 74.4%, 76%. Recall the figure for type 1 sites in England was just 64%! (NHS Scotland reports weekly, England monthly.) So when comparing like with like, performance against the four hour standard is NOT ‘even worse’ in the rest of the UK:  in places it’s better and by a substantial margin!

For completeness, the most up to date weekly figure for NHS Scotland (week ending 3 October) records that for main sites 71.3% of attendances met the four hour performance standard – still substantially better than the 64% at equivalent facilities in England.

What about the performance statistic for ‘all A&E sites’ in Scotland, perhaps during September 2021 it was even worse than England on this metric?  

It’s not clear how the BBC can know! At the time of writing this statistic for September is not yet available on the NHS Perform’s website. So on what is the BBC Health Correspondent basing his claim? Reported monthly, the most recent figure (for August) reports that in NHS Scotland treatment of 77.8% of patients met the four hour waiting time target. And of course 77.8% is NOT worse than 75%. Again the BBC has it wrong!

Can any output from BBC News sources be taken at face value and trusted any more? The mounting evidence presented here on TuS favours the equivalent of the ‘precautionary principle’ –  strongly advising caution and scepticism, pausing and checking on ANY BBC News output on subjects of importance to you.

12 thoughts on “What’s going on at the BBC – deliberate massaging of statistics or careless error?

  1. ‘Even greater numbers are waiting over four hours in the other nations with four in 10 patients in Northern Ireland taking over four hours to be seen.’

    Like the most sneaky of statements it’s true in that N Ireland and Wales have even worse A&E performance. He doesn’t say anything about Scotland but the implication is there.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. ‘Even greater numbers are waiting over four hours ..’

      This is interesting. When I first read this BBC News article a few hours ago it read: ‘Performance in the rest of the UK is even worse with four in 10 patients in Northern Ireland waiting over four hours, according to latest data.’

      It’s now been edited to read ‘Even greater numbers are waiting over four hours ..’ ‘Sneaky’ is being polite!

      Complaint over use of ‘all A&E’ rather than ‘type 1 A&E’ submitted to the BBC – misrepresentation or bias by omission, it can take its pick!

      Liked by 4 people

      1. For further info/interest- BBC 1’s 10pm news has just reported the same one in four waiting more than fours hours in A&E in England. Once again referring to the ‘all A&E’ figure rather than the 64% figure of ‘type 1’ A&E centres.

        And then the BBC’s health expert adds (in terms): ‘A&E in the rest of the UK has fared no better’. Wrong! More misrepresentation – its endemic!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I think the London based news broadcasters are under instructions to include more stories from the nations other than England, but those referring to Scotland must show it in a bad light. Ch4 News has for several years reported hostilely on Scotland, but, until recently, BBC News sometimes put out stories which showed Scotland relatively positively compared to England. Sometimes such stories were not reported in Scotland or, indeed, contradicted the usual ‘Scotland baaad’ spin from Pacific Quay.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Tonight CH4 news covered this story and used almost the same form of words to the effect that things were just as bad across the whole UK. No figures just generalities without the actual numbers.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Conclusion, imo, to confuse, deflect and divide, it’s easy to do. In 2014 my friends and family in NE England all became very hostile towards Scotland and of course that ‘Alic Samond’ ask them why, and they had no idea why they felt that way!
      At one time the NE of England in part at least, had an affinity with Scotland, but the narrative they were brainwashed with in 2014, was that Scotland was somehow their enemy, not to be trusted, and of course, ‘too poor’ and taking their very own money at the same time! ‘What will yous do withoot the oil?’ Sigh.

      it wasn’t really important but it was all part of the British Nationalists’ message, with us or against us narrative! Dangerous but easy done and it will be deployed again…

      Liked by 1 person





    Liked by 1 person

  4. Went looking for this Tiggle distortion exercise and found it on page 2 of the UK Health page, mainly being intrigued as to the tone of comments – They have demoted this story so quickly the comments are still open (24 hours ?) at the time of writing, 6488 and counting…
    Needless to say no sign of the rent-a-gobs which infest Scotland articles with anti-SG/SNP bile.

    Clearly “just as bad elsewhere” was the intended message for this puff-piece for the Tory “extra-funding”, but you can see from the comments why the story was demoted, the Tories got roasted and a few pointed to Scotland’s better provision.

    So it was not “careless” but deliberate inclusion of carefully manipulated figures and implications – When it backfired with the audience, “they” pulled it by demotion, a political rather than public interest decision.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Debate Night Scotland is not on BBC I player. Or catch up. Stephen Jardine not the worst.

    Murrell got called out. More Tory lies. A complete and utter disgrace. Austerity, Brexit, Pandemic shambles. Imaging having them all together with total mismanagement. Complete and utter chaos. More people are dying prematurely because of Tory total mismanagement and utter waste.

    Johnston on holiday. Permanently AWOL. An absolute disgrace.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The Scottish Gov complains all the time. Ignored by the BBC. BBC in Westminster unionist control. The Press controlled by the Westminster Press Office. Westminster is supposed to ensure a free and fair Press. Total failure.

    The Scottish Gov has little control. It can be beamed in from anywhere. They do not have the power to block it. They do counter it. They are successful get massive majorities. Despite the odds stacked against them. They still succeed. The internet can be used to exchange facts and information.

    Thatcher intervened illegally to encourage bias. Handed the Press over to right wing Murdoch. She lied and denied it. It swung the balance. Leveson not implemented. Crooked Press continues without proper regulation for fairness. Without a free and fair Press there is no democracy.


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