By G.A.Ponsonby
Yesterday we had the latest attempt by Labour and their media cronies to present the NHS in Scotland as somehow in crisis and at breaking point.
The usual headlines appeared on BBC Scotland online news, and Radio Scotland’s morning news programme Good Morning Scotland went through its now familiar routine of repeating the headline at regular intervals.

The host of Radio Scotland's Morning Call urged listeners to phone in with their anecdotes of hobbling into A&E and waiting.  The phone-in topic, which is standard fare for Morning Call, was coupled with people arranging their funerals (nice tough BBC Scotland) and we were told how awkward "us Brits" were on this subject.

On Reporting Scotland Sally Magnusson told viewers that waiting time targets had "plummeted in 2012/13".

It felt like groundhog day, and no wonder, for almost exactly one year ago BBC Scotland ran the same story, dutifully informing the public that waiting times in the NHS were the "worst ever".  Newsnet Scotland tore the claim to shreds at the time.

This time the sound-bite was things were 'three times worse'.  Apparently there was three times more people waiting longer than four hours in A&E than previously.

But as ever when it comes to NHS waiting times, the Scottish media - especially the BBC although STV were in on this one as well - then things aren’t ever what they appear.

In order to get the figure that showed three times as many people were waiting over four hours, the latest figures had to be compared with figures from five years ago.  If, as is the norm when compiling such reports, the latest annual figures were compared with those from the previous year then there was a very clear improvement.

Not surprisingly really, for the Scottish Government had already acknowledged over a year ago that the four hour waiting time target was slipping.  They announced a £50m action plan and re-set their short term goal from 98% to 95%.

Since the action plan was introduced, there has been an 87 per cent reduction in patients waiting over 12 hours.  In addition, the number of people attending A&E who were seen and treated within four hours was 93.5 per cent for December 2013, which has increased from 90.3 per cent in December 2012.

Waiting times are still not at the interim 95% target, but there is no doubt that the direction of travel is positive.

So why, when the action plan is into its first year and appearing to have a positive effect, did Audit Scotland not highlight this aspect instead of a spurious comparison with a system in place five years ago?  In its report, Audit Scotland highlighted the difference between 2013 and 2009 in its first 'Key Point'.

Indeed in the graphic, there is no mention of the progress being made by the Scottish Government over the last year.

To find out why the auditors selected 2008/09 as the baseline year, you have to read the actual report.

It says:

"We compare 2012/13 performance data with data going back to 2008/09, as this is the base year we used in our previous A&E report."

The report provides a link to the previous A&E report, which was published in 2010.  However a reading of this report threw up a rather odd anomaly.  The baseline used to compare the four hour waiting time target was not 2008/09 as claimed, but 2006.

The report contains a diagram (shown below) showing clearly that 2006 has been used.

The previous report also states clearly: "In the quarter ending March 2010, 96 per cent (365,949) of patients were seen within four hours compared with 88 per cent (334,907) in quarter ending June 2006 (Exhibit 15)." [my emphasis]

There’s no doubt this is the previous report in question, as I have already noted, it is linked to in the latest report.

So why has the new report claimed 2008/09 was the previous baseline when the text and diagram suggests it was 2006?  Comparing last year’s waiting times (93.5%) with 2006 (88%) would make for pretty good reading for Alex Neil.

But it would be a false impression, as I have already said, the latest figures show progress has been made but that the 95% figure has not yet been reached.  Figures published in February this year already show that in the fourth quarter of 2013 performance against the four hour A&E treatment target was 94.0 per cent.

Newsnet Scotland has asked Audit Scotland to explain what appears to be a significant anomaly in their use of 2008/09.  I will await the response with interest.

That notwithstanding, the headlines surrounding this latest report have suggested a crisis – they always do.  At First Minister’s Questions, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont herself used the word.

This was rather unwise of Ms Lamont, who also blundered by claiming the 2012 figures had been the worst ever.

The reason it was unwise was that in 2004, when Labour were in power at Holyrood, the party set a target of 98% for four hour waiting times.  When they left office, figures available for the period show that at best, Labour achieved 90.5% - a full three per cent less than what Lamont now suggests is a crisis.

Compounding this record is the fact that this was a time of plenty.  Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling had not yet trashed the UK economy.  The austerity measures, implemented by the Tories, were yet to hit Scotland’s budget.

The report published by Audit Scotland has resulted in the predictable, and very sad, stories of people dying in unfortunate circumstances.  Such incidents will happen whichever party forms the government.

I can’t say for certain, but the Audit Scotland report looks like a report aimed more at generating the kind of headlines we saw yesterday than presenting an informative critique of the measures the Scottish Government introduced at considerable cost last year.

I predicted in December last year that the NHS would form part of the attacks on the SNP as we moved closer to the referendum.  This latest episode has not altered that opinion.

Finally, it's always interesting to look back and see how waiting time targets were reported by the BBC when Labour were in power in Scotland.  The image below provides a pretty good idea.

Crisis? what crisis?


# hiorta 2014-05-09 07:01
Politicians playing with numbers which could result in even greater pressure falling on the already hard-pushed NHS staff is totally out of order and utterly despicable.
Have they nothing better to do?
# xyz 2014-05-09 07:13
Should the Auditor General be investigating? Should the Auditor General resign?

Heads should roll. Audit Scotland should be politically neutral not some worthless extension of the Labour party.
# From The Suburbs 2014-05-09 07:38
AS anyone who works in A & E can tell you there are numerous patients who turn up at A & E who should have gone to minor injuries clinic or local GP.

When patients arrive at A & E they are prioritised according to how urgent any treatment may be required so "trivial" attendees will have to wait more than four hours during busy spells.
# BRL 2014-05-09 07:55
Thanks again NNS, this 2006 baseline being represented as 2009 is but the latest bum-steer.

It wasn't so long ago that NNS again reported that it took an article produced by the Economics Editor of the Financial Times, Chris Giles to reveal that the Office of National Statistics had released flawed data regarding economic performance in Scotland, which had it been processed by the EU, would have been circulated internationally . Worldwide publication was only averted by intervention from the FT journalist.

One thing's for certain - it did not paint Scotland in a good-light, just as this misuse of data re the NHS in Scotland also seeks to do. The first question is why? The next, is what's being done about it?
# Gaelstorm 2014-05-09 08:02
I have no beef with the AG. Politically independent they are & have to be. They report the facts as they see them. How others interpret? Now that's a different story!
# src19 2014-05-09 08:19
Add also the BBC report about Scottish Fishing industry recently, Blatant attempt to give the impression that being in Europe is bad, Fails to mention that Fishing was sold out by Westminster long time ago and Scottish Government is powerless.

I maybe cynical but this is all to do European Election due soon and add NHS waiting times to show the Scottish Government in a bad light.
# goldenayr 2014-05-09 08:22
I have emailed Willie Rennie asking him if he condones the actions of the far right group "Britain First",as he appears to do,with his comments in this article.

Would be good if you could also ask him to clarify.
# jdman 2014-05-09 08:30
"I have no beef with the AG"
And you point is?
the figures for each year including the years when Labour were in power in Holyrood clearly show that Labours track record is abysmal and when you take into account that McConnell had more money to play with and fewer people attending A&E in 2006 he still managed to preside over a party whose waiting times were higher than today's figures, no amount of obfuscation will change that fact , and then when you find that Mr McConnell couldn't think of anything to spend his block grant on , he sent millions of unspent money back to the treasury,
a few more 1st minsters junkets could have used up the slack since he spent far more on foreign travel than Alex Salmond does, but going by the hostile presses support of Joanne Laments straw man attacks,
you wouldn't think it, would you?
# Barbazenzero 2014-05-09 09:21
Certainly the AG should react to the Lab/BBC scare stories and issue a press release explaining why the bases were changed. 5 year windows seem reasonable provided longer term information is also provided.

O/T the new BBC scare is on the Olympics - now open to comments at - my own input (swamped because the story is on the main UK Politics page) was:

Standard scaremongering!

South Sudan independence was 9 July 2011 and admitted to UN membership FIVE DAYS LATER! - see

Understandably, they haven't yet got around to forming an NOC.

OTOH, Palestine is only an "observer state" to the UN but has an NOC - see

Honesty from Henry McLeish - ex Labour FM
# Enak 2014-05-09 09:39
And what would may I ask would the A&E waiting times be for Monklands and South Ayrshire had Labour not been defeated by the SNP at the last election?

Some people have very short memories.
# macgilleleabhar 2014-05-09 09:56
Sad to see a once socialist party playing it's part in destroying part of the Post War Social Agreement.
Offhand I cannot think of a greater national asset than the Scottish National Health Service.
# Leader of the Pack 2014-05-09 10:20
What I see is the crystal clear campaigning of "Project Fear" subjectively promoted by UK established institutions in a coordinated attack which proves a single source of control and manipulation.
The fact that the BBC ITV and MSM are included within this coordination of selective information distribution under a very thin guise of impartiality shows the Institutionalis ed ideal of the UK of GB to be not only corrupt to the core but despotically controlled.
Gone is any pretence to democracy gone is all pretence to being a "Free" State.
Which makes the emphasis and massively OTT distribution of CCTV monitoring throughout the UK even more sinister.
How long will it be before we see the re-introduction of biometric ID card legislation making its way through Parliament?
# macgilleleabhar 2014-05-09 12:37
Valid points Leader. Once the British Establishment comes under pressure and scrutiny their true colours and antipathy to democracy are exposed.
# gus1940 2014-05-09 14:42
This is not the first time that a report by The AG has been leapt upon by the usual culprits and their pals in the media only for its content and reporting criteria to be subsequently questioned.

Are questions as to the neutrality of The AG not in order?

Can anybody provide the comparable figures for England over the last few years?
# chicmac 2014-05-10 14:47
Meanwhile, from a frontline commentator

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