“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.