Half a million lives

Picture thanks to Pharmacy.biz

You know I am not the greatest fan of using targets to improve the performance of the NHS. In my opinion they have never worked as they are too arbitrary and indeed have distorted service delivery and politicised the service. Both of these have distracted it from providing the services it is designed for and is well capable of delivering.

The latest Government announcement of its new ten-year plan just adds fuel to the fire. According to the NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens, ‘If implemented these plans will lead to up to 500,000 more lives being saved over the next decade, through 85,000 fewer premature deaths a year, by preventing diseases, such as strokes, heart problems and cancer, and spotting them earlier to improve the chances of survival.’

That seems like an odd claim. Does it mean that at the end of the plan a half a million more people will be alive at the end of the decade than at its start or does it mean that those half a million that would have died during that period will live up to ten years longer? How does the figure of 85,000 equate to the 500,000?

You can find the plan here: https://www.longtermplan.nhs.uk/

The figure of 85,000 fewer deaths does not appear in the report. The figure of 500,000 appears twice, once in terms of the number of sequenced genomes. The second appearance, on page 66 of the 136 page report, says ‘By expanding pulmonary rehabilitation services over 10 years, 500,000 exacerbations can be prevented and 80,000 admissions avoided.’ An exacerbation, in medicine, is the worsening of a disease or an increase in its symptoms.

All I can assume therefore is that the 500,000 figure comes from the extrapolation that all of the pulmonary related exacerbations would lead to death in that decade and that currently none of them would survive. Getting statistics on the rate of survival from a heart attack is not easy yet, of those that get to hospital, the chance of survival is over 90%, while 30% of people who have an attack will have another within five years.

Based upon this information I can’t see anything to substantiate the claim that half a million lives will be saved. Unless someone can explain it properly, it is a meaningless statistic designed to make a story look good.

Of course the public would never fall for such a thing unless it was on the side of a bus.

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