NHS must be ‘careful’ with numbers, warns Health Secretary in wake of Amanda Pritchard error

The NHS must be "careful" with Covid numbers, the Health Secretary has warned in the wake of an error by the head of the health service in England. 

Amanda Pritchard came under fire for claims the NHS had 14 times as many Covid admissions as the service did this time last year. 

She told Sky News on Monday: "We have had fourteen times the number of people in hospital with Covid than we saw this time last year and we have also had a record number of A&E attendances and indeed a record number of 999 calls."

But latest published data on Covid hospital admissions in England show that in fact, the number of people in hospital with covid is significantly lower than last year.  

Official government statistics for Nov 2 show 7,510 in hospital, compared with 10,397 the same time last year. 

Leading professors and economists branded the error as "wildly, off the scale wrong" and "nonsense", and some called for her to resign. 

Asked if he had spoken to her about the mistake, Sajid Javid told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: "I have spoken to her, but I have to I didn’t speak to her about that."

With the prevalence of anti-vaccine fake news, the Health Secretary was asked if there was a duty on the NHS to get the numbers absolutely right. 

He said: "I think we we all need to be cautious about the facts and figures that we use. 

"And that of course includes me. I think in the instance that you refer to, I think Amanda has has corrected it.

"I think she was misunderstood in terms of the timings that she was talking about. 

"But of course we had this is such an important issue. 

"We all need to be careful with what we say and the numbers we use and that as I say that includes me."

Health officials said Ms Pritchard had been referring to data comparing August 2021 to a year before, which did show a 14-fold difference. 

The figures the NHS chief used

Writing for Health Service Journal on Monday, Ms Pritchard had referred to the monthly statistics for August as evidence of how busy the NHS was. 

While Covid data is published much more regularly, the August data is the latest published to examine numbers of planned operations, and diagnostic tests.

In the piece, Ms Pritchard said: “The latest monthly figures show that in August, for example, diagnostic tests were up around a fifth and elective procedures up around a third compared to a year ago despite admitting 14 times more covid patients in hospital.”

“And compared with the same period two years ago, pre-covid, GPs saw more patients overall and 5 per cent more cancer patients were referred for urgent treatment,” she added. 

In the piece, she expressed concern about the ability of the NHS and social care to cope this winter. 

“We all know that the next 100 days are likely to be significantly more challenging and I want every member of NHS staff to know that I recognise how difficult the coming winter is going to be. I am concerned by how stretched we – and our colleagues in social care – are, before we have even reached what are traditionally the busiest winter months,” she wrote.

The health official has been in charge of the NHS in England since August, when she replaced Lord Stevens, after two years as his deputy. 

Ms Pritchard, who is the first woman to run the health service,  joined the health service almost 25 years ago.

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