Are We So Obsessed With Data We Fail To See Success?

FionaOpinion piece by Fiona Grahame

Established in 1948 the National Health Service has insured that people are provided with health care in Scotland free at the point of need. In Scotland  eye and dental check-ups were made free in 2006 and prescription charges were abolished in 2011.

“No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means. ” Aneurin Bevin

Sometimes it is far too easy to forget what it was like before we had the NHS and when we had to pay for our medicines. The obsession with statistics, percentages of waiting times all bandied about by politicians is used to devalue the incredible service provided by our health system in Scotland.

With some exceptions, health policy was devolved to the Scottish Parliament with the Scotland Act  1998. The exceptions are:

  • Xenotransplantation (i.e. the use of non-human organs for transplantation)
  • Embryology, surrogacy and genetics
  •  Medicines, medical supplies and poisons – although decisions on the funding of
    medicines are devolved
  • The regulation of the health professions that were regulated prior to devolution (the regulation of newly regulated professions is devolved)
  • Health and safety.

The delivery of health services is mainly the responsibility of Health Boards. There are 14 Health Boards for local communities and a further 7 which provide specialist services to the whole of Scotland.

In Orkney, as is the case across Scotland, Health and Social Care has been integrated. There are issues with the way this is working. What was seen as being an improvement to the delivery of services has encountered a number of problems. This is preventing the success of what should have been a sensible coming together in the delivery of local services.

History of the National Health Service in the Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament

© Copyright kim traynor

The First Government in a Devolved Scotland was a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition. It started to reverse the increasing use of market economics which had been used by  the Conservative UK Government in its approach to the Health Service. (And which is still the case in England).  The 14 NHS Boards were set up.

There were also considerable fears at this time over the centralisation of services (sounds familiar). The then Health Secretary in the Scottish Government, Malcolm Chisholm, commissioned the Kerr Report which stated that:

“[The NHS] should deliver safe, high quality services that are as local as possible and as specialised as necessary” (the National Advisory Group on Service Change, 2005, p 64).

The SNP Government first elected in 2007 continued with the same structures set up by the Labour/LibDem coalition but also included pledges to bring down waiting times and increase accountability.  Health Boards now have the following structure:

  • Non-Executive Lay Members – appointed by Ministers after open competition
  • Non-Executive Stakeholder Members – appointed and paid in the same way as lay members but are representatives of specific interests that must be represented on the Board (e.g. chair of the area clinical forum)
  • Executive Members – hold a place by virtue of their employed position within the Board (e.g. Chief Executive or Medical Director)

The Patient Rights (Scotland )Act 2011 established the patient’s right to complain.

Over a third of Scotland’s budget is used to deliver our health service. Every year there are calls for increases in funding  as new priorities are identified. Most recently an additional £500,000 was added to NHS24 Mental Health Funding of £1,125,000.

Three quarters of the total health budget goes to Health Boards. It is the local Health Board that determines how this is spent. The hospital sector accounts for over half of NHS Scotland’s spending with staffing and pharmacy costs topping the bill.

Issues Facing Scotland

Scotland has an ageing population this affects the type of services being provided but also workforce planning. Added to the concerns over staffing is the UK’s decision to leave the EU which will have considerable implications over the retention of EU nationals working in health and social care. Estimates are that this amounts to 3- 5% of current staffing.

Brexit will also affect the following:

  • reciprocal access to healthcare (via the European Health Insurance Card and the Cross Border Healthcare Directive 2011/24/EU),
  •  the regulation of medicines,
  • working hours of staff via the Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC),
  • mutual recognition of qualifications and free movement of health and care workers,
  • public health measures such as the Tobacco Products Directive (2014/40/EU

Regulation of the above will become the responsibility of the UK Government.

The Health Service in Scotland has some of the best data in the world.

Weekly statistics are published on performance for Emergency Departments and Waiting Times. How useful it is to have weekly statistics is doubtful? And Statistics without analysis is extremely questionable.

Anyway for those who like statistics, here are the figures for the week of 1st October:

  • There were 27,154 attendances at Emergency Departments across Scotland.
  • 92.7% of people attending Emergency Departments were seen and subsequently
    admitted, transferred or discharged within 4 hours.
  • 158 (0.6%) patients spent more than 8 hours in an Emergency Department.
  • 31 (0.1%) patients spent more than 12 hours in an Emergency Department.

For the week ending 17 September 2017:

  • There were 26,963 attendances at Emergency Departments across Scotland.
  • 92.2% of people attending Emergency Departments were seen and subsequently
    admitted, transferred or discharged within 4 hours
  • 193 (0.7%) patients spent more than 8 hours in an Emergency Department.
  • 40 (0.1%) patients spent more than 12 hours in an Emergency Department.

Our expectations for what can be delivered by NHS Scotland are extremely high. The media and many politicians use the published statistics and the incredible success of our health service to belittle the amazing work that is carried out on a daily basis by the service.

Cancelled operations are often used to criticise the NHS in Scotland but if you do look at the figures what it shows is that many operations are actually cancelled by the patients themselves.

There were 30,516, planned operations  (figures for August 2017) .

  • 1013 (3.3%) were cancelled by the patient;
  • 966 (3.2%)were cancelled by the hospital based on clinical reasons;
  • 523 (1.7%) were cancelled by the hospital due to capacity or non-clinical reasons;
  • 79 (0.3%) were cancelled due to other reasons.

Our health and welfare needs are increasingly complicated as we become more aware of factors which influence our wellbeing.

“Most people in Scotland are overweight: 2 out of every 3 adults and 1 out of every 4 children. People with a healthy weight are now in the minority. Obesity trends are affected by age, gender and socio-economic status.”


“Obesity can have serious health consequences, such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, strokes and many other debilitating conditions. Overall, obesity can reduce average lifespan by up to 10 years.”

“In Scotland, obesity costs the NHS an estimated £600 million per year. It significantly reduces Scottish productivity and the size of the Scottish economy.” SPICe HOW CAN WE REDUCE OBESITY IN SCOTLAND?

Diet, lack of exercise, smoking and alcohol consumption are factors which many of us can take personal responsibility for. All four of these items result in huge costs to the Health Service. This is preventable. Why is it the case that we moan about the centralisation of services and yet we are so poor at taking control of our own personal health and wellbeing? Isn’t it time that instead of the continual carping criticism of what is an extremely successful health service that we instead take on the responsibility of what we can do in the way of keeping ourselves fit and healthy.

The Health Service in Scotland is not perfect. There are real issues around the delivery of integrated health and social care. Our Health Service is, however, something we should be extremely proud of. It is delivering a very high standard of care in a time of intense scrutiny by those who have forgotten what it was like before we had a National Health Service, by those who  have a privatisation agenda and by those who are just political point scoring. The Health Service in Scotland is a story of success.

“The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with faith to fight for it” Aneurin Bevin

Reporter: Fiona Grahame



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10 replies »

  1. In complete agreement. With almost 43 years service in the NHS, I’ve seen much of what it does. It performs wonders because of the dedication of the people that work within it, way past the point they need to go.

  2. 1) I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Nye Bevan – where is another Nye Bevan when we need one?

    2) At the age of 19, my appendix burst – it was referred to as ‘acute peritonitis’ – nothing cute about it. My dad was a school caretaker, my mum was a cleaner and dinner lady – with five children and not much income – without the NHS and ‘free’ ( remember, it ain’t free, we do pay for it), I would be dead – me and many more in a similar situation. Simple as that.

    3) A lot of my family live in Ireland, where, unless you have private health insurance, and/or are reasonably well-off, there is a certain reluctance to go to the doctor, as going to the doctor, costs.
    Encourages a certain kind of robust attitude to life, but…………….

    4) Indeed, Fiona, a lot of it is our own hands – why do people carp about the NHS, or ‘The Government’ or …whoever is easy to blame, when all they have to do is look in a mirror to see why they are un-well. Eat less, do more. Could solve a lot.

    5) My health was generally messed up by a couple of careless doctors, but the fault was with them, personally, not with the NHS. Most of the NHS employees I came across, were helpful, and not only that, genuinely interested and concerned about how I was getting on. Folk from other countries can’t get over how we are looked after here.

    6) “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

    7) A really, really good piece, Fiona – really good. The statistics can be worrying, but – if each person thinks of al the people they know who would either be dead, or incapacitated, or uncomfortable, or emotionally un-settled or limited in their existence, generally, if it wasn’t for the NHS over the last decades – well – that’s a good statistic to look at.

  3. An excellent article. Politicians have each other in a deadly embrace when it comes to statistics. Be it health, education, employment, GDP and so on, statistics have become a weapon which they use with little or no regard to the impact on the general population.

    • In most cases it isn’t even the statistics. It’s the cherry picking of some that suit their agenda, usually devoid of a context, and ignoring others that work against them. There’s no interest in the actual subjects. Statistics are a blunt object to batter opponents with.

  4. Here I go again – always a story………….
    At school, I was rubbish at Maths – spectacularly rubbish at Maths. So, for some reason, they thought I might do better with statistics. I was put into a class doing statistics ‘O’ level, and, what it taught me was, that, indeed, “There are three kinds of lies – lies, damn lies, and statistics.”
    I learnt that, in this form, information could be used to make a proposal fit, in whatever way the statistician wanted it to fit. Careful use of the distances at which you spaced the figures along the side of a graph is one example. Statisticians must know that humans are often not very observant a lot of the time. Combine this with a bit of a tendency to see what they want to see anyway, and statistics can easily be used to bamboozle – that’s the best word I can think of. I could witter away about this – but I’ll just say that I only did one term, in which I got the ideas behind it, with great clarity, but still wasn’t good at working with the numbers – I have trouble remembering my own telephone number. I was moved into the group doing CSE Maths, and got Grade 4. Which was just short of a miracle – for me!
    I may be rubbish at Maths, but I’m not rubbish at putting 2 and 2 together when it comes to seeing that figures can be used to support whatever the person manipulating the figures, wants to support, and wants us to believe/accept..
    That one term, taught me a valuable lesson – not to trust statistics – or statisticians. When presented with statistics, I scrutinize them carefully and always try to look all around them, to see what might be behind what I’m being presented with. For a generally trusting soul, this may sound a bit extreme, but – really – I studied them for a term, and actually taught me a lot, one thing being that……I didn’t want to have much to do with them, and I still don’t.
    I hope to think well of people, but I’m not stupid.
    I agree with Eamonn’s last line, but will add that they can sometimes be used in very, very subtle ways too – and those are the ones you really have to watch. A blunt instrument comes at you, nice and clear and straightforward. A sneaky approach is…..sneaky. Beware of sneaky.

  5. I couldn’t agree more with Fiona and the comments above but until people realise that they can’t have Scandinavian levels of care and yet want to pay as little tax as possible. NO TAX – NO NHS, END OF.

    • I completely agree. But Conservatives are all about reducing direct taxation as if it’s a hideous evil. It’s simoly a means to an end.
      They just don’t want the same end that someone who isn’t independently wealth needs as a necessity.

      • Hi Eamonn, your are dead right Tories just don’t want to be taxed at all hence their slimy search for off-shore tax havens where they can squirrel away their largely ill gotten gains. We need to find ways of taxing them like Business Rates on shooting estates, a land Tax on large estates, large speculative office developments for rent etc.

  6. And I agree with you, Charles. There’s nothing wrong with raising taxes – as long as it’s proportionate, and fair. Tax those who can afford to be taxed, to enable benefit for all. It seems simple enough doesn’t it?
    And – take Jimmy Carr off the television.

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