Labour gets its HAI stats in a twist

The perils of a slow news day and mainstream media outlets relying on filler copy have already been highlighted by the burd and Better Nation this festive period.  Now it’s Labour’s turn.

Exposed:  New Research reveals Scotland is Superbug Capital of Europe” proclaims the Scottish Labour media release.  Jackie Baillie MSP, Labour’s shadow health spokesperson and never one to forego the use of over-excited hyperbole and superlatives, states “Being the the superbug capital of Europe is an accolade no country wants.  These figures show that, despite recent progress, the SNP still has a long way to go in the battle against healthcare associated infections“.

Aye but a lot less further to go than if it had been left in your party’s less than capable hands.

The media release also relies on a comment from Professor Hugh Pennington who seizes the opportunity to peddle his own agenda.  But at its heart is a table lifted from a SPICE (Scottish Parliamentary Information Centre) research briefing on healthcare associated infections or HAIs as they are commonly known.   The problem is that the table (provided at Appendix 3) compares apples and pears.  That is, it provides “an overview of recent prevalence surveys of HAI infections in industrialised European countries” relying on statistics collated across a host of different sized cohorts in terms of numbers of hospitals and patients included in countries’ studies and crucially, gathered in different years.  To use these prevalence findings as some kind of league table is inappropriate without at least caveating the approach.

Thus, the study for the UK as a whole (which shows HAI infections prevalence as 9%) is from 1996, the study for Greece is from 2000 (9.3%) and the one for Sweden is for 2004-06 (9.5%).  The league table offers little that is useful by way of comparable data, something that Labour ignores in its rush to condemn.  Indeed, in terms of timing and cohort size, possibly only two countries’ findings can be compared with Scotland.  The one from Sweden and the one from Norway which found a prevalence of 6.8% between 2002-07.

But Labour’s biggest crime is a political one.  It blames the SNP for a finding from the first year in which it was in power, 2007, but actually given the way government data tends to be collated, a finding from 2007 is likely to be for the year to the end of March 2007, which just happens to have been wholly within the timescale of the last Labour/Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive.  Even if the findings are from the calendar year, the SNP only had eight months in which to turn things around, following eight years of decline in cleanliness standards in hospitals and elsewhere under Labour.

Bizarrely, Jackie Baillie might have managed to put out a media release purporting to attack the SNP-led administration which actually points up the failings of her ain lot.  Well done for reminding us that under Labour, Scotland was indeed Superbug Capital of Europe.  That’s political acumen at its best.

The selectivity deployed does her no favours either.  Labour’s media release pounces on one very small part of the research to justify its ends and ignores the findings from other data tables in the publication.

Such as the fact that under the Labour led Scottish Executive, MRSA and C Difficile related deaths were allowed to rise unchecked on their watch, and it is only since the SNP came to power and invested considerable resources and energy in tackling this issue, have death rates come down (see Tables 3 and 4 in the briefing).

Or that in all age groups, from the peaks reached under Labour or just after the SNP became the government in 2007, the prevalent trend for such infections across the whole of the NHS in Scotland, in non-surgical and surgical sites, has been downward, albeit with one or two wee jumps along the way (pages 12 – 16 of the briefing).

But that’s the kind of good news that Labour doesn’t want the country to know.  What’s worse is the mainstream media – BBC’s Good Morning Scotland by all accounts – seized on Jackie Baillie’s media release and turned it into a news story without checking any of the facts, not least whether or not the finger of blame could actually be pointed at the SNP and Cabinet Secretary for Health, Nicola Sturgeon MSP.

And this says as much about the state of Scotland’s mainstream media as it does about the state of Scottish politics.

Jackie Baillie suggests that “sadly, almost everybody knows someone who has contracted a healthcare associated infection.”  Maybe, but we know a darn sight fewer now than we did in Labour’s heyday.  And actually, such political partisanship does no family coping with the impact of such an infection on a loved one any favours.  Instead of calling on the SNP to “redouble its efforts” (even though the Scottish Government will spend £28.4 million tackling this issue in each of the next four years) it would be refreshing to hear how Scottish Labour was going to assist the government’s efforts.

But then that would involve the sort of opposition politics that seems beyond Scottish Labour currently.

We’re only two days into the New Year and not only have we had a taster of the SNP’s strategy for 2012 (we’re great but can be greater still), but also a sample of Scottish Labour’s (they’re rubbish and getting rubbisher).  Neither is particularly edifying.

Both approaches seem predicated on massaging figures and data to suit their own political ends.  But in the current #factcheck league table in Scottish politics, fabricating a story out of the level of HRA infections and trying to strike fear into the hearts of everyone who ever had a relative or friend go into hospital is worse, much worse than inadvertently, artificially inflating the number of folk who have chosen to live in Scotland from elsewhere in the UK.


16 thoughts on “Labour gets its HAI stats in a twist

  1. I notice in your article, some criticism of OUR BBC.
    I recently made a complaint regarding a “serious political discussion” on Radio FOUR no less where the presenter peddled the defeat of Independence in the 77 vote.
    I pointed out that the MAJORITY VOTE WAS FOR INDEPENDENCE. It was the 40% rule which caused failure by less than 1% if memory serves. Being a super stats guru, is it within your ken to advise me when was the last UK/Scottish 40%+ Government as I understand that even the great sweep of Blairs’ 1st gov. didn’t achieve that.
    All this of course brings to the fore – which government/party in Scotland/UK can argue with a MAJORITY (of vote 40%+) Scottish SNP Government

    • General election stats for main party share of the vote were over 40% on the following ocassions
      2001 (TB – 40.7%), 1997 (TB – 43.2%), 1992 (JM -41.9%) 1987 (MT – 42.2%), 1983 (MT- 42.4%) 1979 (MT 43.9%)

      from the list you can see almost every government since 1979 has had more than 40% of the vote. Only Blair in 2005 and Cameron in 2010 had less.

      Last time I looked a majority is 50%+

      • They may have had over 40% of the vote but not over 40% of the electorate voting for them which was the thrust of the post above. in the 1979 referendum (the bill was introduced in 1977) 52% of those voting voted for devolution but when those not voting (including those who were dead but still on the voters roll) were taken into account the proprortion of the electorate who voted in favour of it was 33%.

  2. Really shocking stuff from Labour. But even worse that BBC, Scotsman etc just repeat the guff. You can expect certain political parties to come up with this sort of thing, but where are we when the BBC don’t check? And, strangely, why hasn’t the BBC cariied this on their website while giving it loadsa time on TV and radio, hmmm….

    Well done burdzeyeview for being quick off the mark with this.

    And think ourselves lucky that Baillie isn’t our Health minister (*shudders at thought*)…

    • Ah yes but SNP supporters should be wary of castigating MSM over this faux pas – they did exactly same over the 800,000 immigrants from rUK release! Messy, lazy journalism due to lack of staff, time and resources to fact check. Sadly.

      • Agreed, the migration figures were so out of kilter that someone should have double or triple-checked.

        My argument though is that MSM are much more likely to regurgitate/escalate a SLab press release.

        And, the migration stats seem to have been an error – a bad one, right enough – but didn’t much change the overall story. The superbug stats are something entirely different, whoever scripted that knew exactly what they were doing, ie delving into page 18 of a SPICE report.

  3. I’m not prone to commenting on blogposts but I saw the original reply from @nicolasturgeon this morning and wondered which stats were being used.
    I am wary of stats as a rule, although have thrown a few in my time.

    Jackie Baillie should know better, and certainly IF this is the core document used for her assertions then she will be suitably embarrased (and rightly so).

    However, the area of HAI’s has changed drammatically as it became better understood by health professionals. This is a technical success (the reduction – albeit with a bit of pressure from politicians which I think was already being applied) not a political one. With better awareness / understanding better results have been possible. Well done to the profession.

    The error is however a political one and shows that some people need to up their game, check their facts and give credit where it is due. Similarly they need to scrutinise all figures that are bandied about.

    Governments of whatever colour do not get everything wrong, opposition often sounds like they do.

    Willfull misuse of statistics needs to be stopped and apologies sought whomsoever is the perpetrator. (unlikely to happen, however).

    A small thought – anything that is measured and classified is open to abuse. The rigour behind the data collection needs to be verified, this is a problem in many countries.

    Personally I am just glad that infection rates are going down, and I hope in future they’ll cease to be a problem. It is effort well spent.

    • I agree – and I made that point in passing, that the fact that we have managed to get deaths, rates of infection in a whole range of surgical and non surgical sites, and for different age groups is a good thing. That we should all continue to work towards and invest in, and not misuse stats to create a scare story for. 2012 is going to be the year of the misrepresented stat i think, sadly

  4. You do know Prof. Hugh Pennington is a card-carrying Labour member?

  5. or still there, like I need to be.

    • You are in good company – originally the title to this post said Labour’s has got its HRA stats in a twist. I need a sub-ed.

  6. Labour

    If they had any brains they would be dangerous.

    The people who set this up for the mouthpieces to spout must be straight out of school or maybe sytill there?

    Sad really

    • Unfortunately I think they do have brains – except their backwards thinkers.

      The reason their huffing and puffing about this now is because they KNOW full well they’ve misused these figures. Its why their releasing them now – no FMQ’s to be bounced back on. Although hopefully Salmond makes an issue of it himself!

      (This is a very nice one to put in the ‘stats folder’ for any stat related question from Labour)

      Labour will be trying to use the NHS against the SNP obviously. Thinking their Tories…still. Fortunately Nicola Sturgeon is widely respected and does a fantastic job in Health.

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