Telegraph at it again: ‘Half of families suffer in hospital’

The Telegraph’s up to its tricks again, as part of multi-fronted media attack on the NHS to weaken public trust  and affection for it. The sorry excuse for a broadsheet has published a nonsense article clearly designed to paint the NHS in a damning light, with a starting paragraph, underneath the ‘half of families suffer’ headline, claiming:

Patients routinely struggle to get the treatment they believe they need and experience rudeness, neglect and in some cases physical abuse, according to polling by YouGov.

The frustrating thing is that so many people are fooled by this kind of specious tosh when it’s so easy to deconstruct and expose for what it is with just a little thought. Let’s look at its claims one by one and do just that:

Respondents or ‘someone in their family’

This illogical rubbish appears in two forms:

Sixteen per cent said they had personally experienced poor care, while another 30 per cent said their relatives had suffered poor care in the past decade – a total of 46 per cent.

Of these, 43 per cent – or around one in five of all respondents – said they or their relative had treatment or diagnoses that were wrong.

Do you see the error? One of my relatives is currently in hospital (and receiving very good treatment). But let’s say I was asked whether I had a relative in hospital by a polling organisation. I would, of course, answer yes.

But so would my brothers, my father, his brothers, their kids – and so on and so on – all because of one person in hospital.

Now imagine there had been some ‘poor care’ – let’s say a nurse not answering a buzzer for a while because all the nurses were busy with urgent, life-threatening cases.

Factor in the obvious fact that bad news travels fast because people love to complain and gossip, and you have easily hundreds of people, all of whom could answer ‘yes’ to the pollster – all talking about the same case.

Of course, it’s unlikely that the 2,000 people surveyed were all talking about the same relative. But the number of links any patient has to friends and family massively multiplies the probability of a ‘yes’ response – without any bearing on how much poor care really exists.

Patients as doctors

According to the Telegraph, one in five said ‘they or their relative had treatment or diagnoses that were wrong’. But most patients do not have the expertise to know this – which is why we need doctors in the first place. And still that ‘family multiplier applies.

No definitions

The article goes on to claim that

52 per cent – or one in four of the total survey – said they had suffered neglect or ‘lack of care’. Some 42 per cent said they had encountered rudeness or lack of respect, and 39 per cent said they had difficulty in getting the treatment they needed.

Note how nothing is defined, either here or in the preceding paragraph. What are respondents calling ‘poor care’ or ‘neglect’? What kind or degree of rudeness/lack of respect, exactly? What kind of ‘difficulty in getting treatment’?

We don’t know, because it’s not stated. Respondents may have considered it rude if a nurse brushed past them without saying ‘good morning’ or answering a question – but that nurse may have been rushing to administer urgent care to someone.

‘Difficulty getting treatment’ might, to some people, mean waiting half an hour for treatment in a highly-pressured Accident and Emergency unit – or having to travel to a GP for an examination before being referred to a hospital. People can be very blinkered and selfish.

‘Poor care’ or neglect, to some, might mean having to wait an hour for a shave because nurses were busy completing the medicine round or dealing with someone having a heart attack – I’m using real life examples of complaints I’ve heard made to nurses by people who were too self-centred to realise that their need had to wait a little while.

And, don’t forget, we’re still talking about ‘or their relative’, so that multiplication effect is still there. I guess the Telegraph just ‘neglected’ to mention it.

The past 10 years

This is perhaps the most pathetically sneaky, because it’s so obvious if you think even just a little about what is said:

Despite tens of billions of pounds being invested in the NHS, 46 per cent of respondents said they thought standards of care had declined over the past ten years, while just 20 per cent thought standards had risen.

In 2010, under the last Labour government, the NHS had its highest-ever public satisfaction rating: 70%. ‘Highest ever’ means that it had been rising in the years previously to reach that peak – it can’t mean anything else.

So, when the Telegraph says ‘over the past 10 years’, what it’s really saying is that standards have declined over the past 3 years – ‘strangely’ the three years under the current government.

But by framing the question to address the past 10 years, the pollsters (YouGov) – or the Telegraph if the misleading framing is down to the newspaper – are being deceptive, in order to lead readers to link the deterioration to the previous government instead of putting it squarely where it really belongs. The longer time-frame also gives the impression that there has been a long, steady decline instead of the real picture of up, up, up, highest ever – and then downhill under a government that is sucking funds out of the NHS but denying that it is creating a problem.

Those mean old nurses again

The section concludes with this:

Two in five thought nurses were less caring than in the past and that they prioritised hitting targets over caring for patients.

Not a word of context for this statement – nor presumably for the poll questions that led to it: the drastic underfunding and understaffing being inflicted on the NHS by a government that wants to see it fail and will brazenly ignore the most emphatic finding of the Francis report in its ‘response’ to it.

Not a word about the 7,000 nurse posts that have been cut under the coalition – nor of the almost 20,000 nursing posts (not to mention thousands of other functions) simply left unfilled in order to cut costs.

The Telegraph has plenty of ‘form’ for unfounded and deliberately misleading attacks on the NHS – even to the extent of telling its sub-editors to leave in irrelevant material in an article to make it more damning of the NHS.

This pathetic article, of which the Telegraph’s health journalists should be ashamed, is just more of the same. We need to make people wise to this cynical and venal tactic, so please spread the word.


  1. Well done for exposing this drivel.
    Interestingly, I have been discovering recently that much of the public is wise to this. Several non-medical people from other parts of the country I’ve talked to recently had a similar response roughly as follows:
    “From what’s been in the media over the last few years, how many excess deaths were there at Stafford Hospital between 2006-9?”
    “Hmm … can’t quite remember …. several hundred?”
    “What if I told you that the real figure is probably zero?”
    “I’m not surprised”

  2. I’m registered on YouGov and when I get polls to complete, they ask questions but don’t give you any option to explain your answers. So, YES, I agree with you completley.

  3. Well done, Steve, for once again highlighting the demonisation of the NHS which continues on an almost daily basis. We recently had an example of a patient and relative who accused staff of not caring. I work on an acute medical ward – the emphasis is on the word ACUTE. Our patients tend to be very sick when first admitted and require a lot of care. A patient in a four-bedded bay became very unwell and we were trying desperately to help him when the relative from the patient in the opposite bed asked for a urine bottle for the night. I said that we would be with him in just a moment as we were dealing with an emergency and his reply was “oh that will be a nurses’ moment – perhaps half and hour or perhaps never” Once we had stabilised the patient, approximately 10 minutes later, I took a bottle to the patient opposite, apologised for the delay saying that I was sure they could understand that in an emergency we have to prioritise care. The relative was extremely rude and disparaging about nurses and the NHS. The nonsense was that the patient did not even want to use the bottle at that time, he just wanted to have it by his bedside so that he could use it overnight should he need to. I had to bite my tongue as I do on a regular basis at work these days but I have to admit to being human and taking delight in stopping the same relative from using the patients’ toilets on the ward and making him walk 50 yards along the corridor to find the public toilets.

    The complete lack of understanding about looking after someone who is extremely unwell seems to be quite common in our population these days – when did it all change??

    1. The minority of the population who behave in this unreasonable manner are encouraged by the commodification and marketisation of the NHS ie about 1989.
      The vast majority still hugely appreciate the thoughtful and compassionate treatment and vocation seen every day in the NHS – all they want is a decent and sensible GP and a good local hospital (that will refer them to some distant mega-centre only if necessary). Why and how successive governments have managed to hinder the staff in this and at the same time waste pots of money, is quite beyond me.

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