News From The Frontline 13.04.20.

By Vivien Walsh

  1. How the government lies with statistics.

BBC news has reported 737 new coronavirus-related hospital deaths in a 24 hour period making the total so far 10,612. In a different report the BBC said that the real figure must be over 1000.

These Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) records do not give figures for deaths outside hospital, for example in care homes, nursing homes or people’s own homes. They are only reports for England, not Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland. And they are only cases where COVID-19 is recorded as the primary cause of death. Some clinicians might record respiratory or renal failure or pneumonia as the primary cause of death, and may or may not include COVID-19 as a secondary cause.

In any case these statistics only give deaths where the virus has been cited as the primary, not secondary, cause. In many cases a test for the virus may not have been done. It takes more than 48 hours to get the results from a test. No bereaved family wants to wait longer than necessary to make funeral arrangements. There are always understandable pressures to get a death certificate issued, and the death registered as quickly as possible.

In addition, now that so many care homes are in the private sector and not only concerned about their reputations but under competitive pressure to attract patients, there may be concern to minimise the number of deaths recorded as being caused by COVID-19 for fear of losing potential paying clients.

The number of deaths of people in their own homes include those who under other circumstances would have been in hospital, but have heeded advice from the government, from their GP practices, from NHS 111, from hospital A & E departments and countless ads on all media, to “stay home”.

  1. Massaging data

We have been hearing about absolute numbers of deaths on the news, both here and for comparison in different countries. But age-standardised rates, which take account of demographic differences between populations, are better for international comparisons. Using information taking age profiles into account, from China, which had the earliest attack from the virus, and information about UK age profiles, The Lancet published a calculation that UK death rates from Covid-19 were 0.66% overall, but 7.8% for over 80s, and only 0.0016% for children under 10, when they adjusted their figures for the number of people in each age group of a population.

One of our informants, a doctor, suggests that when the pandemic is over, the results from the UK and USA will be worse than in those countries that introduced protective measures more rapidly and whose health services were better funded and prepared. “That’s why Number 10 is blaming civil servants for duff advice, NHS-England for PPE shortages, the public for not staying home, and NHS staff for wasting PPE (which they now call “a precious resource)”.

The USA is the only economically advanced country not to have a national health service available to the whole population. Britain’s NHS when properly resourced and as it was originally established, was still much more efficient in terms of what is provided relative to £ spent, per head of population, because the other national health services are funded by insurance systems, which has to be claimed back.

  1. They knew what would happen!

But the Government failed to publish an early warning, let alone prepare for Covid-19. Exercise Cygnus was a pandemic drill involving all Government Departments that concluded in Oct 2016, three and a half years ago, but the Government suppressed its findings. These were that the NHS would be plunged into crisis if Britain were infected with a deadly disease. It predicted there would not be enough beds (especially in intensive care), not enough staff, not enough of the necessary equipment, and not even enough space in mortuaries or then cemetaries for the dead, following years of Tory cuts and financial “squeeze”. And the country would be plunged into economic crisis from the acute recession, and social crisis as a result of coping with so many deaths.

Last week Jon Ashworth (shadow Health Minister) called on Ministers to publish the results of this drill. But we must do more. We need to scale-up our campaigns throughout the Labour Movement and in society generally, to immediately increase spending on the NHS for the long term, to implement Labour’s policy to re-nationalise all the many sections of the NHS that have been privatised, and to convince everyone who stayed home last Dec 12th (or voted Tory) to vote Labour in future.

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One Comment

  1. ilon@hotmail.co.uk says:

    Excellent contribution Vivien. Thank you

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