The Tory manifesto says infections like MRSA now kill more than three times as many people as are killed on the roads, yet the statistics say otherwise.
The Conservatives have been in trouble over their use of statistics before. Chris Grayling’s crime numbers has been persistently questioned, the Tories famously claimed that half of all teenagers were pregnant in some areas, and David Cameron was caught misusing data about cancer during the first leaders’ debate. It now emerges that their claims about MRSA are also economical with the truth.
The Conservative manifesto states (page 47):
“When patients are forced to go to hospital, they expect the highest standards of cleanliness. But infections like MRSA now kill more than three times as many people as are killed on the roads each year.”
Really? Let’s have a look at the figures from the Office for National Statistics. Road deaths have steadily decreased from 1967 to the latest figure of 2,946 in 2007.
A quick look at the data for MRSA and the more common (‘MRSA-like’) C. difficile reveals how the Conservative figures have been estimated (probably). Essentially they are using every case in which either MRSA or C. difficile appeared as a contributory factor on a death certificate rather than cases where it actually killed someone.
In 2008, MRSA and C. difficile were ‘mentioned’ in 1,230 and 5,931 (total = 7,161) death certificates respectively, but were deemed to have been the ‘underlying cause’ in just over 200 and 2,906 (total = 3,106) cases.
Either way, the statistic – whilst an attention grabbing sound-bite – is an essentially meaningless comparison. Neither 7,161 (all mentions) or 3,106 (underlying cause) is “three times” 2,946 (road deaths).
What is of course not mentioned is that whilst deaths had been on the rise since 1993 they have been declining for at least 2 or 3 years following a great deal of NHS effort and investment tackling the problem. Indeed infection reports have fallen a whopping 35 per cent (C. difficile) and 34 per cent (MRSA) in the last year recorded.
You can take that two ways: either this is a tremendous success story for the NHS or it took years to recognize and turn around a preventable problem – but turn around it has.
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