Tuesday 16 July 2013

Chinese whispers?

So Sir Bruce Keogh's report didn't say there were 13,000 'needless deaths' in NHS hospitals after all - despite the confidence of much of the British media that it would. (The BBC, as you know, is innocent of this particular charge).

This is quite startling, shocking even. Where did that figure come from? Is it a case of shameless government spin, feeding the Daily Telegraph (and others) with a lie? 

Isabel Hardman at the Spectator spells out where the figure came from:
It isn’t a made-up figure, but neither is it a list of 13,000 people who have definitely ended up in a mortuary as a result of the failings at the 14 hospitals examined by Keogh. It is in fact a calculation by Professor Sir Brian Jarman of Imperial College. Jarman calculates that had the hospitals had average death rates, 13,000 deaths could have been avoided in that period.
I'm still looking for an explanation as to why that figure of 13,000 'needless deaths' came to be so widely and prominently reported in association with the Keogh report, especially as the report itself explicitly rejects such methods of calculation:
However tempting it may be, it is clinically meaningless and academically reckless to use such statistical measures to quantify actual numbers of avoidable deaths. Robert Francis himself said, “it is in my view misleading and a potential misuse of the figures to extrapolate from them a conclusion that any particular number, or range of numbers of deaths were caused or contributed to by inadequate care”.’
Sir Bruce Keogh himself said of the 13,000 figure yesterday:
"Not my calculations, not my views. Don’t believe everything you read, particularly in some newspapers."
He said that in reply to the reader of a pro-Labour blog who decided to e-mail Sir Bruce and ask him if the figure was true. If only our mainstream journalists had that kind of initiative! (And why on earth didn't one of them think to do something as simple as that?)

The government is strongly denying that it is responsible for spinning the figure to the press (especially the Daily Telegraph). So how did it come about then? Why did almost all of the main British media organisations (excepting the BBC) run with it, one after the other? What does this say about journalistic standards?

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