Worst waiting times ever … if you’ve complained to the BBC


  By G.A.Ponsonby
Last week the complaints department of the BBC sent out an email to someone who has been pursuing a complaint.
The complaint involved BBC Scotland’s refusal to report in any way, the racist tweet posted by a prominent Labour party campaigner and regular BBC Scotland pundit, Ian Smart. 

  By G.A.Ponsonby
Last week the complaints department of the BBC sent out an email to someone who has been pursuing a complaint.
The complaint involved BBC Scotland’s refusal to report in any way, the racist tweet posted by a prominent Labour party campaigner and regular BBC Scotland pundit, Ian Smart. 

One week previous the BBC had given very prominent coverage to claims by comedienne Susan Calman that she had suffered considerable online abuse.

The reply from the BBC complaints department was matter of fact and almost funny:

We had referred your complaint to the relevant staff and are normally able to investigate and reply to most complaints at this stage (which is stage 1b of the complaints process) within 20 working days of receipt, or around four weeks.  However this is to inform you that we believe it may now take longer than 20 working days before you receive our reply.

We apologise for this and have brought the matter to the attention of the relevant staff again. The delay in answering may be due to their unavailability or other production commitments.  We therefore ask you not to contact us further in the meantime.

The staff referred to are based at BBC Scotland.  It looks as though they have simply ignored the complaint.  Even the BBC’s own complaints department appear unworthy of an explanation.  So the complainant has to wait.

Waiting times were all over BBC Scotland’s news coverage on Tuesday and Wednesday, Accident and Emergency waiting times to be precise.  The Scottish government’s target of 98% of patients dealt with within four hours was not reached, the national figure a disappointing 91.9%.

This was an improvement on December and January and equal to February but still below the target.

BBC Scotland reported these figures as “the worst ever” in some reports and “the worst since records began” in others.  Several bulletins accurately reported that the figures were merely the worst since 2007 and online they were described as simply “the worst since monitoring began”.

As ever, when we heard BBC Scotland describe the figures in these stark terms we became suspicious.  Were the waiting times really the worst ever, we asked ourselves?

Within 60 seconds of checking, we discovered the answer … no.  In 2006, before the SNP came to power, a survey reported that the national figure for treatment within four hours was 88%.

Cut and dried?  Well not quite, because the methodology in 2006 when Labour was in power was limited.  The figures were compiled by using a solitary week in April in order to provide a snapshot of waiting time statistics.

We contacted the organisation behind the latest statistics who confirmed our understanding.

“The 2006 and 2007 figures are not directly comparable, as the 2006 A&E waiting times figures are derived from a 1 week long paper-based survey.  This predates the establishment in 2007 of a national A&E datamart and the agreement of consistent definitions.”

Explaining the latest figures, a spokeswoman for ISD Scotland said: “The recent ED activity and waiting times publication shows that the proportion of new and unplanned attendances at all A&E services across Scotland that were seen and discharged within 4 hours (the 4 hour waiting time standard) was 89.7% in January 2013. This was the lowest figure against this standard since July 2007, which is first available comparable data.”

So, the worst waiting times occurred in one month – January this year.  There’s no arguing that this is the worst waiting time since 2007, but is it really the worst of all time?  If they can’t be compared then how did BBC Scotland apparently manage to do just that?

So we asked them to comment and provided a link to the 2006 survey.

Back came a reply:

“Our news reports on A&E waiting times since 2007 accurately represented the information supplied by the Information Services Division (ISD) of NHS Scotland.  Prior to 2007 the data was collected differently, being gathered over a week, rather than a month, so it would have been inaccurate to treat both sets of data as comparable.

“Yesterday’s report from the ISD clearly states that A&E services have submitted data to ISD through the A&E datamart since July 2007. It is worth noting that the ISD made no reference to any earlier surveys of waiting times in any of its publications yesterday.”

Here’s the key phrase – “inaccurate to treat both sets of data as comparable” – so they agreed with us and the ISD, so we asked for clarification:

“Yes, we are aware of the differences in collating the data and have contacted ISD who have confirmed that no comparison can be made between pre-2007 and post-2007 figures.  Yet BBC Scotland appear to have decided in some broadcasts that the 2013 figures are the “worst ever”, not just the worst since 2007.”

We received no further response.

So we are left none the wiser as to why some BBC Scotland presenters decided to spice up the A&E waiting time figures, and it looks like we’ll never know.  Sadly it looks to be an attempt at embellishing disappointing, but probably understandable, figures to make them look even worse.

Yesterday BBC Scotland was swamped with Scottish NHS stories, which is in fact understandable given the plethora of stats and figures that were released virtually simultaneously.

However most of the stories seemed to cherry pick only those aspects of the statistics that could be portrayed as bad or negative, the phrase “postcode lottery” was uttered a lot.  Not by opposition politicians, but by BBC Scotland presenters.

It wasn’t just the presentation of the A&E story that caused concern.  Another report into hospital infection rates was quite simply bizarre.

Headlined ‘Hospital infections progress halts’ the bizarre article managed to turn a long term success story into a warning.

“The watchdog which monitors the NHS has warned that significant progress is no longer being made on reducing healthcare associated infection rates.” the article told readers.

Yet here’s what Prof Jacqui Reilly, HPS lead consultant on HAI, told the BBC: “What this report shows is that the work which has been done throughout the NHS in Scotland in recent years has been very successful in reducing HAI and making care safer for patients.”

‘Progress halts’ or ‘Very successful’ … which of the two is more accurate?

In fact hospital infection rates has been one of the big success stories since the SNP took control of the Scottish NHS, as Labour MSP Jackie Baillie will testify to.  Scottish hospitals are the cleanest they have ever been, and the success rate has been so great that improvement in 2012 was too low to be significantly significant.

Yes, that’s right, improvement is still being made.

But what of the ‘warning’?  Well here’s Prof Reilly again:

“While HAI is still generally decreasing, the levelling trend shown this year in HAI incidence means that our priority now should be to build on past progress and continue to find new and innovative ways to drive HAI down even further.

“With more than 50,000 HAI in acute care in Scotland each year there remains an opportunity for further preventative measures to protect patients in Scotland.”

‘Warning’ or ‘Opportunity’ … which of these two is more accurate.

BBC Scotland has to realise that more and more Scots are beginning to see through this kind of news manipulation and blatant cherry picking.  Just how hard can it be to present the people who pay your wages with factual, impartial and honest news?

It will be interesting to see if BBC’s presentation of the Accident and Emergency figures will be picked up by the Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont at First Minister’s Questions.