BBC Breakfast Host Highlights One Major Flaw In Steve Barclay's Comparison Of NHS Waiting Times

"They're not really comparable figures, are they?" Sally Nugent noted.
Sally Nugent called out Steve Barclay for his use of figures on BBC Breakfast
Sally Nugent called out Steve Barclay for his use of figures on BBC Breakfast
BBC Breakfast

Steve Barclay was called out live on air for his flawed comparison of NHS waiting times in England and Wales in a cringey exchange on BBC Breakfast.

As the health secretary tried to prove English waiting times are better than those in Wales, host Sally Nugent told the health secretary that he was looking at two different kind of statistics.

During the Monday morning interview, Nugent asked Barclay about the ongoing NHS strikes, saying: “How frustrated are you by all this?”

He replied: “Well, hugely, because what really matters is patients waiting for treatment and our commitment to getting waiting times down.”

The cabinet minister then alleged “we’re making big progress on the longest waits”, even though NHS waiting times in England reached a record high last week, with 7.6 million people waiting to start treatment at the end of June.

Meanwhile, a four-day strike from junior doctors is still rolling on this week – just as the Resolution Foundation think tank has estimated that almost four million days of work have been lost to industrial action alone in the past year.

However, Barclay said: “In England, we’ve virtually eliminated waits of over 18 months.

“Whereas in Wales, for example, there’s over 75,000 patients waiting more than 18 months.

“In fact, many of your listeners will be surprised to learn there’s four times as many patients waiting over a year for treatment in Wales compared to England.”

Healthcare is a devolved issue, meaning Westminster does not manage it for Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, but some NHS patients in Wales do travel to England for treatment.

Barclay tried to continue talking, but Nugent cut in and said: “Can I just stop you there? Can I please just stop you there for a moment?

“Because the figures are collated in a different way, so that’s not particularly relevant.

“Long waiting times are falling every month in Wales, they’ve actually more than halved in the last year.”

But Barclay persisted: “No – people waiting more than 18 months is over 75,000. There’s more than 30,000 waiting more than two years.”

The BBC Breakfast host said: “They put more referrals in their statistics than England does, so they’re not really comparable figures are they?”

“Well, yes they are,” he said, adding: “I think people can see for themselves.”

It’s worth noting that Wales has actually recorded 748,395 “patient pathways”.

That refers to the total number of waits rather than the people waiting, because it is possible for one person to be on more than one list – meaning it’s slightly different compared to England’s NHS waiting lists.

Meanwhile, in England, nearly 780,000 hospital appointments have been postponed because of strike action since last December.

The Welsh government previously said: “The overall growth in waiting lists in Wales has been smaller in Wales than in England over the last 12 months – it grew by 3.6% in Wales and by 12.1% in England.”

Back in the BBC Breakfast interview, Barclay did add that he has requested more “transparency” from Wales and Scotland so data on performance across the UK can be more easily compared.

He also claimed: “There are areas where it is recorded differently, such as ambulance response times, but in terms of long term waits, it is the fact that in Wales, you’re four times more likely to wait for treatment over a year compared to England.

“That is a stark difference, the longest wait over two years, have been virtually eliminated, as have those over 18 months.”

The government has said this week that it wants to work with Wales to help more patients get faster treatment by going to hospitals in England, but it’s not clear if there’s even capacity for that.

This week is also the start of the government’s health week.

It comes after a chaotic small boats week, where migrants had to be evacuated from the new barge meant to offer them accommodation after legionella bacteria was discovered in the water supply.


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