Labour cuts NHS Waiting List by 970,000


12:00 pm - February 1st 2010

by Unity    


      Share on Tumblr

After falling flat on his face as a result of his last foray into the realm of statistics you might think that a certain Tory blogger would have learned a valuable lesson. But, no, he’s back again and making yet another raft of daft mistakes:

Burying Bad News on NHS Waiting Times

Whenever there’s a major political event, you always need to watch what government press office put out. And true to form, today the Department of Health is trying to bury bad news. At 10.06am an email dropped into my Inbox with the alluring headline

STATISTICAL PRESS NOTICE – NHS INPATIENT AND OUTPATIENT WAITING TIMES FIGURES – 31st December 2009
I nearly didn’t bother to look, but suspicion got the better of me. It turns out that patient waiting times have increased dramatically in 2009.

The number of inpatients, for whom English commissioners are responsible, waiting over 13 weeks at the end of December 2009 was 57,600, an increase of 12,300 (27.3%) from November 2009, and a rise of 18,000 (45.3%) from December 2008.

The number of outpatients, for whom English commissioners are responsible, waiting over 8 weeks at the end of December 2009 was 74,100, an increase of 11,700 (18.8%) from November 2009, but a rise of 26,900 (57.0%) from December 2008.

Shouldn’t the press release have been headlined…

Labour Increases NHS Waiting Times by 50%?

UPDATE: The Dept of Health has been in touch to deny this is burying bad news. They say that these figures always come out on the last Friday of the month.

Credit where its due, Iain’s already sort of acknowledged his first mistake – had he checked the DoH’s website, he might have noticed that this is nothing more than a routine statistical release that the DoH does issue at the same time every month.

As for his suggestion for an alternative headline, Iain’s got that badly wrong as well because he’s forgotten – or more likely never learned – one of the cardinal rules of statistics.

One statistic does not make a trend.

To be fair, Iain’s not alone in making errors of this kind. Politicians and the press pull stunts like this all the time, largely because it’s a very easy way to mislead the public, the majority of whom are no more statistically literate than they are.

Fortunately, errors of this kind are easily fixed – you just have to look at this graph:

NHS Inpatient Waiting Lists

That’s the actual trend for NHS Inpatient waiting time stretching all the way back to 1987 with trend-lines for patients waiting longer than 13 weeks right the way up to the poor sods that had to wait more than 18 months.

Thankfully, we haven’t had any of those since the end of 2003 and the NHS also managed to clear its waiting lists of people waiting more than 15 month by June 2004 and of anyone waiting more than 9 months by June 2006.

By the time we get to December 2009, the data shows that the NHS had only 18 people on its inpatient waiting list who had not been admitted to hospital within 6 months of being referred for treatment.

The last time the Tories were in power and running the NHS, there were a total of 448,340 people who’d been on a waiting list for inpatient treatment for more than 6 months. 37,256 of these people had, at the time, been waiting more than a year.

In March 1997, there were 1,030,947 people who’d been sitting on an NHS inpatient waiting list for more than 13 weeks.

In December 2009, even after the increase noted in the NHS statistical release cited above, there were 57,586 people who’d been waiting more than 13 weeks for an operation.

The sharp rise in size of the waiting list in the first year that Labour after came to power was, like so many other things at the time, a consequence of changes to the manner in which the statistics were compiled that had the effect of revealing the true scale of Tory mismanagement of the NHS during the 1980s and early to mid 90’s.

Yes, if look the trend for the last two years, the number people on the waiting list has gone up, as has the number of people who’re waiting more than 13 weeks – although not by anything like as much as for the full waiting list.

There is, however, a perfectly straightforward explanation for this, which can be easily deduced from this piece of information:

According to 2007 statistics, as many as 12.5 per cent of the UK population has private medical insurance policies. Over two and a half million people in the UK have private health care provided direct by their employer.

That was the position before the recession kicked in earnest and unemployment started to rise, and when people lose their jobs they don’t just lose their salary, they also lose the other benefits that went with their job, including their private health insurance.

That’s why NHS waiting lists go up during a recession – because people have been joining the NHS waiting list for routine operations and inpatient treatments who would otherwise have gone private had they not lost their job and, therefore, their private health insurance.

That brings us to a certain Tory blogger’s final mistake.

His headline should really have read:

Labour CUTS NHS Waiting list by 970,000

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Health ,Labour party

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


1. George W Potter

Brilliant post. Absolutely brilliant. There’s not much more that I can say.

Unity, you yourself are forgetting the cardinal rule that once something is established as a government target, it loses >90% of its utility or reliability as an indicator.

To a patient, whether one is on a ‘waiting list for an operation’ or merely on ‘a waiting list to get onto a waiting list for an operation’ is a distinction without a difference.

To an NHS bureaucrat or a Labour minister, however, the distinction is crucial.

Can you provide any pretty graphs that show that times from ‘first consultation with a specialist’ to operation have reduced half so dramatically?

I only ask because my wife has now been ‘waiting three years for an operation’ – in the usual sense of that phrase. But in the bureaucratic/statistical sense she hasn’t been waiting at all – she has simply been recalled for successive meetings with a consultant who explains that he cannot refer her yet because the Trust would not be able to deliver the treatment within the required timescale.

Kafka didn’t know the half of it.

This is some seriously fine data pr0n. Brilliant stuff.

That’s why NHS waiting lists go up during a recession – because people have been joining the NHS waiting list for routine operations and inpatient treatments who would otherwise have gone private had they not lost their job and, therefore, their private health insurance.

Maybe. Or maybe because people who do not have insurance can no longer manage to pay the cost of private treatment. In 2006-7 there were around 200,000 ops carried out in private hospitals on patients who had no insurance, but were finding the money somehow.

All the NHS statistics are unreliable. Basing any argument upon them is foolish.

I know this from personal inside information. The data is simply corrupt.

I’m in a similar situation to flowerpower’s wife.

I keep getting recalled for meetings with my consultant, which keeps me far away from any government waiting lists/targets. So far, this has been going since March 2007. My consultant tells me this will keep going on till i either can’t walk and become an urgent case, or by some mircale I get high up enough on the waiting list. He advised me to go private if I could, and apologised for the charade he was being forced into because of waiting list targets.

Not that I’m in any way surprised though. Several Doctor friends have made no bones about how they are forced by their managers to fiddle statistics to serve government dictat. A&E patients being shoved onto wards or simply not admitted is a common one, as well as the one above.

The point I’m really making is this – Labour’s tractor production statistics are not really believed by anyone any more. Same with crime statistics. If you change the rules of reference, you aren’t collating the same statistcs. Not to mention the small army of beauracrats whose job is dependent on managing targets in the governments chosen direction. Managing…not actually doing.

That is the nub of it really – Labour have confused the difference betweeen action and soundbite, doing and talking.

According to 2007 statistics, as many as 12.5 per cent of the UK population has private medical insurance policies. Over two and a half million people in the UK have private health care provided direct by their employer.

Genuine question on this point. How many people in 1997 had private health insurance? If, as you suggest, the rise in NHS waiting lists of the last two years is a result of people not having private medical insurance, it seems a fair comparison to 1997 (or 1998 if that’s when reporting methods changed) would include the number of people with private medical insurance.

As a quick check, the only stats I can find suggest that in 2000, 11.5% of people in the UK had private insurance. If that number was 12.5% in 2007, that suggests around 600,000 more people went private between those years. The graph above shows total waiting was around 1.05 million in 2000 and fell to around 650,000 in 2007. But then, that’s a fall of 400,000 during a time when 600,000 went private.

If anyone can find some more robust numbers I’d be interested to see, but from a very quick look it seems the reduction in NHS waiting times is pretty much all explained by people taking private medical insurance.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Labour cuts NHS Waiting List by 970,000 http://bit.ly/cpMgGw

  2. labourmatters

    RT @libcon Labour cuts NHS Waiting List by 970,000 http://bit.ly/cpMgGw <– lovely fisk of @iaindale NHS nonsense

  3. Lee Griffin

    RT @libcon: Labour cuts NHS Waiting List by 970,000 http://bit.ly/cpMgGw

  4. James Hepplestone

    To hammer the point home: 448,340 waiting more then 6m under Tories; now down to 18! RT @libcon: http://bit.ly/cpMgGw

  5. Unity

    RT @libcon: Labour cuts NHS Waiting List by 970,000 http://bit.ly/cpMgGw – forget to RT this – even though its another stats lesson for Dale

  6. timmymc

    RT @Markfergusonuk: Labour cuts NHS Waiting List by 970,000 http://tinyurl.com/y9mqdjn

  7. tommyhawkins

    Liberal Conspiracy » Labour cuts NHS Waiting List by 970,000 http://bit.ly/cpMgGw

  8. James Hepplestone

    Check out the graph – woah! RT @libcon: Labour cuts NHS Waiting List by 970,000 http://bit.ly/cpMgGw

  9. Mark Ferguson

    Labour cuts NHS Waiting List by 970,000 http://tinyurl.com/y9mqdjn

  10. Chris Coltrane

    http://bit.ly/abgAKC – Interesting blog post about how a Tory blogger misrepresented NHS waiting list stats.

  11. Ian Hopkinson

    Interesting waiting list stats via @libcon, I can't be bothered to chase back to source data: http://bit.ly/abgAKC

  12. Tweets that mention Liberal Conspiracy » Labour cuts NHS Waiting List by 970,000 -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chris Coltrane, Liberal Conspiracy, timmymc, labourmatters, Lee Griffin and others. Lee Griffin said: RT @libcon: Labour cuts NHS Waiting List by 970,000 http://bit.ly/cpMgGw […]

  13. Not in praise of…Tory Education Policy « Bad Conscience

    […] “competition” in the internal market of the NHS drove up standards so far that record waiting lists by 1997 meant that Labour had to undertake collosal spending increases to get the health service […]





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.