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.

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Vote! Good week, bad week

So, who had a good week in politics and who had a mare?

Well, top trump in the chumps and flumps’ stakes has to be shared by Liam Fox and Chris Huhne.  Huhne for managing to tweet a direct message openly to all and sundry that indicated that he had been briefing off the record.  Tsk, tsk.  And Liam Fox because of a complicated relationship with his best man that has resulted in lots of tittle-tattle on the front pages of the metropolitan press.  Oh, and that he’s had to refer himself to be investigated for his conduct.  If he thought this course of action might damp the whole thing down, he was wrong:  the political press pack now scent blood.

George Osborne had a good week when he probably shouldn’t have – he appears to have taken over from Teflon Tony.  A robust and passionate conference speech against a backdrop of gloomy economic news at home, dire straits in Europe and tailspinning global markets.  Oh and still no plan for growth.  His reaction to credit downgrading for some of the UK’s biggest financial institutions was “good, about time”.  Labour’s reaction to this nonchalance was non-existent.  Where was Balls on this?

David Cameron, meanwhile, was almost conspicuous by his absence from the public and media consciousness in this big week for his party.  How strange.  Yet, perhaps pre-ordained?  The show after all doesn’t always have to be about him.  Steady as she goes, after all, this far out from a UK election.  Though lots of puppy-dog earnestness about paying down our debt and adopting a can-do attitude ain’t exactly newsworthy.

In media terms, the phrase darling was surely coined for the hilarious double-act performed by Messrs Jeremy Paxman and Boris Johnson on Newsnight.  At times, surreal, at others simply bizarre, it was an interview that contained genuinely laugh out loud moments.  There is a vaudeville opening for them on the festival circuit when they both retire.

No real stand out performances at Holyrood this week, though I do think, Holyrood itself and the SNP and Labour collectively can pat themselves on the back for a job well done on the welfare reform debate.  Jackie Baillie skilfully manoeuvred the Scottish Government into a difficult position over her amendment to its resolution on the UK Government’s welfare reform bill.  Anyone who has discounted totally her tipping her hat at the leadership might be a little premature.  And even if she doesn’t run, she laid down a marker this week that she is a parliamentary force to be reckoned with.  Particularly as it is rumoured that the Scottish Government was bounced by its backbenchers at a parliamentary group meeting into supporting her amendment.  The idea that the group of 69 provides little more than lobby fodder might well be unfounded.

Indeed, the Scottish Government was put on the backfoot – again – on its ill-thought out anti-sectarianism bill.  Opponents are circling at an ever more alarming rate and gaining credence and credibility.  The committee’s report was a dog’s breakfast, ably dissected by the estimable Lallands Peat Worrier.  The lesson from this debacle for the First Minister is surely that election commitments made on the hoof result in much repenting at leisure.  What other wee goodies did Salmond bounce his party into during the campaign that will now return to haunt his administration?  (And that’s quite enough clichés for one blog post)

Ed Miliband shuffled his pack (oops, sorry) and Margaret Curran can be viewed as a big winner.  Only an MP since 2010, she is now in the shadow Cabinet, and will bring her knowledge of Scottish politics to bear, as well as her experience as a government minister, albeit in the ither Parliament.  Those CyberNats guffawing at her prospects against the FM are missing the point.  He is not her putative opponent:  Michael Moore, the Liberal Democrat Secretary of State is.  I reckon she will land plenty of blows, as I’m not sure the ponderous and accident-prone Mr Moore will cope with her incessant, terrier-like harrying.

Miliband now has a Cabinet of his own making, though it remains to be seen if he can make anything of his Cabinet.  And his opportunity.  Tom Watson, meanwhile, can be pleased that his championing of the phone hacking scandal, from the start, when no one else was prepared to listen, has resulted in such an omnipotent role behind the scenes.  The new Mandy is a very different beast….

So, time to vote.  And let’s see how the SNP-oriented readers of A Burdz Eye View cope without having one of their ain to vote for.  Go on, engage your brain, you know you want to…. though if you disagree with my choices, suggest alternatives in the comment thread, and I “might” add them.