A scandal has erupted over figures used by Jeremy Hunt to support his claim that a ‘seven-day NHS’ was needed – on the day David Cameron tried to ridicule Jeremy Corbyn for supporting doctors.
Cameron repeatedly claimed that he supports Hunt’s desire for a ‘seven-day NHS’ during Prime Minister’s Questions – despite the fact that the United Kingdom already has a fully-functioning, seven-day-a-week National Health Service. If you need healthcare on a Sunday, you’ll get it.
Clearly the PR-conscious PM has lost whatever good judgement he had – and one wonders whether he would have been as vocal in his support for Hunt if he had paid more attention to the scandal that the BBC has uncovered.
It seems Jeremy Hunt used unverified and unpublished information to support his claim that a ‘seven-day NHS’ was needed – and then “leaned on” government officers to make them backtrack and “fudge” an explanation when this was exposed.
You see, ministers are only allowed to quote data that is freely available. This information wasn’t – and was subsequently superceded.
Following on from this, we now have evidence that the Conservative Government offers up lies in response to Freedom of Information requests.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt used academically unverified and unpublished data to back his plans for a seven-day NHS in England, the BBC understands.
Last July, in the pay row with junior doctors, Mr Hunt said there were about 6,000 deaths a year because of the lack of “a proper seven-day service”.
A spokesman said the information had been shared with the department by the NHS’s medical director for England, Sir Bruce Keogh.
Labour is calling for an investigation into whether Mr Hunt leaned on his department in order to cover up his advance sight of the study.
Last July, Mr Hunt said: “Around 6,000 people lose their lives every year because we do not have a proper seven-day service in hospitals.”
This figure was then used regularly by the government in its argument for changes to doctors’ contracts.
Emails from NHS England reveal Mr Hunt knew details of the sensitive study into weekend deaths at least two months before it was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), and based the 6,000 figure on his understanding of the data.
When the BBC asked NHS England and the Department of Health for the source of the 6,000 figure, neither was able to answer.
The UK Statistics Authority then wrote to NHS England, reminding the department that “data mentioned publicly by ministers should be available equally to all users”.
Look at this [boldings mine]:
An email released under the Freedom of Information Act, written by NHS England’s Seven Day Services Forum project manager Deborah Williams to one of the BMJ study authors, said: “We were challenged to cite the source of the 6,000 figure and attempted to offer up the most bland statement possible, that would neither confirm not contradict [Mr Hunt’s] statement.”
Despicable. But did Hunt apply coercion to secure this co-operation?
The study author, Domenico Pagano, refused to corroborate Mr Hunt’s use of the figures, saying: “It will be inaccurate and counterproductive to quote that our analysis is due to be published in the BMJ shortly, as this is not the case and may seem to interfere with the peer review process.”
When finally published in September 2015, the research actually suggested there were 11,000 excess deaths per year as a result of the “weekend effect” – although the authors pointed out this could not be proven to be linked to staffing levels.
This is accurate. Instead, it has been shown that the 11,000 deaths were more likely to have happened because people with serious illnesses had been reluctant to seek help than because of staffing issues.
A separate string of emails seen by the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act shows officials at Whitehall and NHS England then backtracked, using a combination of figures already in the public domain from 2009 and 2012 to attempt to provide an explanation for the 6,000 excess deaths claim. NHS England then published this in a “low-key fashion” on their website on 6 August.
One official at the Department of Health wrote to another at NHS England explaining the fudge, saying: “I am keen to avoid undue criticism of either [the Department of Health] or NHS England’.
More fudged death statistics from the Conservative Government. Remember the fudged figures relating to the deaths of people on sickness benefits?
NHS England has now admitted Mr Hunt had had advance sight of “headline figures” of the BMJ study prior to it being accepted for publication.
This is despite NHS England’s Freedom of Information Officer saying in October last year: “Sir Bruce Keogh did not discuss the study’s findings with anyone at the Department of Health at any point before or after the publication of this article.”
This is proof that the Conservative Government lies in response to Freedom of Information requests.
Labour shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander said: “This is an extremely serious state of affairs given the weight attached to these figures by the health secretary in justifying changes to junior doctors’ contracts.
“Rather than admitting the source of the figures, it seems that civil servants had to cobble together a post-hoc rationalisation for Jeremy Hunt’s sound bites.
“There now needs to be a full investigation about whether pressure was put upon officials and whether the health secretary was involved.”
Yes, indeed – an independent investigation.
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