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.
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’
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.