By stewartb (In-depth Correspondent)
I’m obliged to the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) for publishing extended period time series data on A&E waiting time performance for the four NHS organisations across the UK. It does so in a graphical form that enables a valuable, perhaps novel perspective to be gained.
We know that much attention is given to A&E waiting times, especially in Scotland. Each weekly release of statistics (only monthly updates provided in England) gets Reporting Scotland’s ‘crisis’ treatment if the figures show any drop in performance. This has been going on for years!
Typically, the BBC’s output for a Scotland-based audience on this – and indeed other health service issues – provides little or no context or perspective. How often does the BBC provide a comparison between A&E or any aspect of NHS performance in Scotland with that in another UK nation where it would leave a relatively favourable impression of NHS Scotland or the Scottish Government with its audience? Negative framing is the norm!
However, as I trust this post will illustrate, ‘perspective’ can be easily provided – if the desire is there to do so! And the outcome can be illuminating!
A decade’s perspective
The source information for this post can be found here https://rcem.ac.uk/data-statistics/
The RCEM graphs shown below are for performance against the benchmark 4-Hour waiting time target in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland over the past decade or so. Red horizontal lines on each graph have been superimposed on the originals at the 90% and 75% levels. This is done both to clarify the labelling on the Y axes and to compensate for the different scales used by the RCEM: it helps ‘correct’ for any misleading visual impression that may otherwise be given. The vertical blue line on each graph is set as close as the RCEM originals permit to a mid 2011 date, again to aid comparisons.
I suggest focusing on two features: (i) the overall amount of time over the decade or so that each graph records a performance ABOVE the 90% level; and (ii) the overall amount of time each graph records a performance BELOW the 75% level. By visual inspection alone, and on both factors, NHS Scotland performs best by in some cases by a substantial margin.
There’s really not much more to say about these data! But perhaps two wider points are worth making.
Firstly something that BBC Scotland’s editors and journalists might consider: providing ‘perspective’ (and context) in news and current affairs programmes should be seen as a basic public service and it’s not that difficult to do – if you’re motivated to try!
Secondly, the underlying purpose of this – and I strongly suspect all similar posts on TuS – is not to ‘glorify’ an achievement in Scotland relative to others: performance in treating sick people should not be viewed as any sort of competition between institutions. Poor NHS performance anywhere can have very harmful effects and in any event Scotland’s A&E waiting times performance at present is far from what most would wish it to be.
No, the point here is to make a small contribution towards countering the prevailing negativity from BBC Scotland’s news coverage. This is only needed – and the level of negativity can capable of being sustained by the broadcaster – because characteristically its coverage lacks context, lacks perspective, avoids national comparisons favouring Scotland’s NHS and Government, and is seemingly allergic to ‘good news’!