Innumeracy in the health care debate

Gerald Warner: not the best advertisement for the Telegraph:
[Via Deltoid]

Because Tim Blair gets political commentry about Australia from Taiwan, it comes as no surprise that he gets his commentry on the States from England, from one Gerald Warner who reckons that Obama’s attempts to create a “Union of Soviet States of America” will fail and that he will be a one-term president. I think it is more likely that Warner has his fingers on a gin and tonic than on the pulse of the American people, but this claim intrigued me:

The one glimmer of realism [Obama] displayed was when he recently told an audience in Montana that, with regard to health care, he was “not in favour of the British system”. Perhaps he had just seen the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics revealing that more than 30,000 people have died in England and Wales from hospital infections in just five years. Translated proportionately into American demographics, that would be 150,000 fatalities. Not the best advertisement for socialised health care.

But, according the CDC:

In American hospitals alone, healthcare-associated infections account for an estimated 1.7 million infections and 99,000 associated deaths each year.

That’s about 500,000 deaths over five years, over three times the rate reported by Warner. Seems like maybe it is a good advertisement for socialised health care after all.


Not only was the point of the original comparison misleading but, as the post shows, the numbers used were in fact totally wrong. There may be many things wrong with the UK system (many think it is the worst in the EU), but misusing numbers in this fashion is not the way to prove it.

One of the commentators also provided some extra information that, if true, is very intriguing:

Also, the high rate of infections in the UK in recent years has been linked to a move away from government control, not towards it. Hospitals went from employing their own cleaning staff to outsourcing to private contractors. Because it’s taxpayer money, they had to put it out to tender to the lowest bidder, and – guess what! – the companies charging less didn’t always have the highest standards. So, failure all round as a comparison, really.

Because we have seen a similar problem over here with janitorial services. It seems like this is one of those ‘obvious’ areas to save money which actually results in greater health costs. The fact that in a 7 year period, 75% of all the hospitals had “been cited for serious cleanliness and sanitation violations” is a little worrisome.

How can hospitals get away with such poorly sanitized facilities? I think that will have to be another post.

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