Two letters from Andy Burnham concerning Cameron’s lies about A&E waiting times

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1) Andy Burnham calls on UK Statistics Authority to clarify Cameron claims on A&E waiting times

Andy Burnham MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, has today written to Sir Andrew Dilnot, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, following claims made by David Cameron in Prime Minister’s Questions on July 2nd and further research by the House of Commons Library published yesterday.

David Cameron has been accused of misleading MPs over A&E waiting times, after a claim he made three times was challenged by the politically neutral House of Commons Library. Cameron’s claim that average waiting times had more than halved under the Coalition was based on “a simplistic reading of the data”.

In a blog on the House of Commons Library website, researcher Carl Baker wrote that A&E data “must be discussed in a way which is useful and informative”. The blog post was removed from the website, with a message in its place which said it had been taken down “as it does not meet our expected standards of impartiality”. The message said a revised blog post would be uploaded “as soon as possible”.

The researcher also said that a similar claim, made last month by the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, that the median waiting time had fallen from 77 minutes, was “false”.

In fact, there had been no reduction in waiting times, and total time spent in A&E was actually increasing.

A copy of Andy Burnham’s letter is below:

Dear Sir Andrew,

Prime Minister’s statements on average waiting times in Accident and Emergency.

I am writing to seek clarification about recent claims by the Prime Minister about waiting times in Accident and Emergency units in England. As you may be aware, on 2 July the Prime Minister informed the House of Commons that average A&E waiting times had fallen from 77 minutes to 30 minutes.

“Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman exactly how long people are waiting. When the shadow Secretary of State was Secretary of State for Health, the average waiting time was 77 minutes; under this Government, it is 30 minutes.”

David Cameron, Hansard, 2 July 2014, column 883
“The average waiting time is down by more than half. That is better.”
David Cameron, Hansard; 2 July 2014, column 883

In addition, the Health Secretary informed the House of Commons on 9 June that “the median wait for an initial assessment is only 30 minutes under this Government, down from 77 minutes under the last Government.”

“NHS staff are working incredibly hard to see and treat these patients within four hours, and it is a tribute to them that the median wait for an initial assessment is only 30 minutes under this Government, down from 77 minutes under the last Government.”
Jeremy Hunt, Hansard, 9 June 2014, column 288

But the House of Commons Library, in a blog post that has since been removed, says that “total time in A&E has been steadily increasing” and that “The data does not show that the average time in A&E has fallen since 2008. Rather, the typical total time in A&E has risen”. And they say that it is “false” to claim, as the Health Secretary did, that the median waiting time has fallen from 77 minutes, because “the median has remained more or less unchanged at around 10 minutes to initial assessment”.

I would be very grateful if you could consider the accuracy of the Prime Minister’s and Health Secretary’s statements, and in particular to clarify whether “time to initial assessment” is an accurate indicator of “average waiting time” in A&E, and whether it is an accurate indicator of overall A&E performance.

Yours sincerely,

Andy Burnham

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2) House of Commons Library research devastating for Cameron on A&E waiting times

Following the publication of a blog by the House of Commons Library debunking the Prime Minister’s claims on A&E waiting times at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Andy Burnham MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, has written to David Cameron asking him to correct the record.

Andy Burnham said:

“This analysis from the House of Commons Library is devastating for the Prime Minister. “It exposes his cynical spin on the NHS and suggests he is guilty of giving a misleading impression of what is happening.

“David Cameron needs to hold his hands up, return to Commons and correct the record. It is only by being up front about what is really happening can a proper plan be developed.”

Letter to David Cameron from Andy Burnham:

Dear Prime Minister,

Yesterday at Prime Minister’s Questions you told the House that average A&E waiting times had fallen from 77 minutes to 30 minutes.

“Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman exactly how long people are waiting. When the shadow Secretary of State was Secretary of State for Health, the average waiting time was 77 minutes; under this Government, it is 30 minutes.”

Hansard, 2 July 2014, column 883

However, today the House of Commons Library, in an analysis of A&E waiting time data published on their blog at http://commonslibraryblog.com/2014/07/03/have-ae-waiting-times-fallen/, has comprehensively debunked your claim. They say that “it relies on a simplistic reading of the data, and that the measure [the Prime Minister] refers to is not the most natural indicator of the ‘average waiting time’ in A&E”. The Library says that the data “does not support the PM’s statement”.

The Library goes on to say that on median time to treatment, and median time in A&E, which “are more natural ways to report ‘average A&E waiting times’ – there has been no reduction in waiting times… and total time in A&E has been steadily increasing”.

The Library concludes that “The data does not show that the average time in A&E has fallen since 2008. Rather, the typical total time in A&E has risen (for admitted patients, at least)”.

Given that they have risen, it was wrong for you to claim that average A&E waiting times have fallen. I trust that you will want to take the earliest opportunity to correct the record.

Yours sincerely,

Andy Burnham

Further reading

David Cameron accused of misrepresenting A&E waiting times to Parliament

Yesterday at PMQs – the Prime Minister

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 With  thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant illustrations

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6 thoughts on “Two letters from Andy Burnham concerning Cameron’s lies about A&E waiting times

  1. Reblogged this on Vox Political and commented:
    After the HoC Library withdrew its blog article for reasons of “impartiality” that have yet to be fully explained, I’m glad that Andy Burnham has called on the UK Statistics Authority to clarify the facts.
    Of course, if the facts are at odds with what Messrs Cameron and Hunt said, they will be guilty of misleading Parliament. That used to carry a heavy penalty but (as readers of Vox Political will be tired of seeing me repeat by now) this is a criminal government; it does what it likes.

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  2. Good on Andy Burnham – what with Sheila Gilmore’s letter the more MP’s and others dispute on everything that is being said or done by the “coalition”, will put more pressure on them. As this is the run up to the election the tories want to be seen as honest, *cough*, and spot on with figures and statistics, *cough*.

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  3. Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    After the Tories’ censorship of the House of Commons Library article criticising their claims that NHS waiting times had fallen, and Cameron’s own misleading statements to that effect, Andy Burnham has at last challenged the Tories on this. This is, however, just the tip of the iceberg. The whole government is founded on lies and propaganda, the most practiced deceivers being IDS and his cronies in the DWP.

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