How the Government massages the Stats

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February 7, 2013 by Protect Our NHS

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In 2011, concerns were raised in the Observer over a series of unpublished government polls purporting to show record satisfaction levels in the NHS.

The opinion surveys, conducted by the pollster Ipsos MORI, have been regularly provided to the Government, but have not been made publicly available since 2007.

It was claimed that the the Department of Health (DH) was keeping the surveys under wraps to gloss over high levels of public satisfaction with the Health Service ahead of controversial reform plans proposed by the Government.

To get at the surveys, Full Fact submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.

Now it seems our request has been acceded to without recourse to the FoI laws. The Department of Health has now published the findings of all surveys up to March 2010.

But bizarrely, the Department is now claiming that the findings were published all along.

A statement provided to Full Fact from the Department of Health said: “We have published Ipsos MORI reports on public attitudes to the NHS on the Department of Health website. These reports date from 2008 to March 2010 and were published in the House of Commons Library in December in response to a Parliamentary Question.”

After some digging we found the answer to the Parliamentary Question from December, in which Health Minister Paul Burstow undertook to place the survey findings in the House of Commons Library.

Likewise the papers can now be found among the list of deposited papers in the House of Commons Library.

Which is all well and good. But questions remain as to why, when we called last week, the statement we received suggested something rather different:

“This is nonsense. The fact is that this data is collected for policy development purposes and ‎has not been published since 2007.‎”

Why the difference between the to statements? Full Fact went back, once again, to the Department and were given this explanation:

“The Secretary of State was asked by a member of the HSC [Health Select Committee] about the publication of the surveys of public attitudes towards the national health service and social care, and in particular one that was “out in autumn 2010″.

“Reports since 2007 had not been placed on the DH website and the SofS had been advised that they were not therefore in the public domain. His remarks were based on that premise.

“It has since come to light that in fact the post-2007 reports were placed in the House of Commons Library in December. The SofS had not been advised of this.

“The reports have now been loaded up onto the DH website and the SofS will consider the publication of future reports in line with the FOI publication scheme.”

So it seems that while the survey findings were available, the deposited papers page of the parliamentary website is hardly the most prominent place to published the findings.

After all, it seems even the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley was not immediately aware that they were published there.

But at least the extra attention the ‘unpublished’ surveys received last week means they are now available in the slightly more accessible port of call that is the DH website.

So, after all the confusion, is public satisfaction with the NHS at a record high? The most recent Ipsos Mori report reveals that the level of satisfaction recorded in March 2010 (72 per cent) was high and had been more or less sustained since December 2008, as the graph below shows.

This does constitute the ‘record high’ reported. But it is worth keeping mind that the surveys have only been conducted since 2000, making longer historical comparisons more problematic.


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