Theresa May has been rebuked by the head of the UK statistics watchdog for misusing NHS waiting times figures in Prime Minister’s Questions.
Sir David Norgrove, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, said May’s comparisons between A&E waiting times in Wales and England were “not valid”.
In an embarrassing climbdown, Downing Street said it accepted the watchdog’s verdict, which followed a complaint about the PM’s of “selective misuse” of data.
At PMQs last month, May tried to wrongfoot Jeremy Corbyn by quoting figures claiming that seven times more patients were waiting more than 12 hours in casualty departments in Labour-run Wales than in Tory-run England.
Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones complained about the claims and now the UKSA has given its verdict agreeing the figures had been wrongly used.
Sir David has previously criticised Vote Leave’s infamous claim – repeated by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - that £350m a week could be diverted to the NHS after Brexit.
And the latest reprimand follows Tory Health Committee chair Sarah Wollaston attacking ministers for “disingenuous” use of figures on the scale of the winter crisis.
Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth told HuffPost: “This is an embarrassing slap down for an increasingly gaffe-prone Prime Minister.
“I would expect her to correct the record in the Commons and instead explain why because of Tory underfunding NHS England bosses have been forced to abandon the A&E target for the next financial year. English patients deserve better.”
May had used her statistic on January 25, when Corbyn attacked her about the worst-ever A&E waiting times figures in the NHS in England.
Following a tactic used by David Cameron, May then proceeded to respond by trying to suggest Wales, where Labour runs the devolved government, had an even worse record.
“If he wants to talk about figures and about targets being missed, yes, the latest figures show that, in England, 497 people were waiting more than 12 hours, but the latest figures also show that, under the Labour Government in Wales, 3,741 people were waiting more than 12 hours.”
But hospitals in England measure 12-hour waits from when a doctor has seen the patient and decided they should be admitted. In Wales the clock starts ticking as soon as the patient registers in A&E.
Jones wrote to the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) to complain of the PM’s “misleading” comments, warning: “Selective misuse of statistics like this does not allow for a fair debate on the NHS.
“Research such as the OECD Review of Health Care Quality showed that there was no consistent picture of one nation’s health system performing better than another.”
Responding, Sir David said: “You are right to say that the comparison is not valid.
“The figure used for England refers to the accident and emergency wait time from the decision to admit to admission into another part of the health service.
“The figure used for Wales represents the entire time patients wait from arriving to leaving accident and emergency services, including the time from decision to admit to actual admission.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We would accept the assessment of the UKSA.
“But the point that the Prime Minister was making - in terms of the fact that the A&E in England performed better than A&E in Wales in relation to this target - still stands.”
The spokesman was unsure whether May would have to publicly correct the record to MPs.