Private Eye has a running feature called Number Crunching, in which jarringly discordant numbers are compared. We thought we’d try it this week, with numbers both national and local.
Here’s the first: Church of England Sunday attendance was in the headlines the other week, as congregations tumble. Average Sunday attendance is now 765,000.
Meanwhile, football, that booming, billion-pound industry, saw 2014-15 season ticket sales at the highest on record at 463,518.
So — more or less — twice as many people go to church as hold football season tickets.
“Church still twice as popular as football” is a good headline but not one we’re holding our breath to see.
Next up: 16% and 120,000.
These two are particularly annoying as they’re indicative of the deceit that permeates politics today.
The second figure was the number of troubled “families”, those neighours from hell behind anti-social behaviour and assorted ne’er-do-welling that David Cameron and other politicians invented, and rammed down our throats.
In reality these people simply did not exist, at least not in the terms politicians presented them.
The number was the rounding-up of a figure of 117,00 families, an extrapolation by researchers looking at the 2004 Families And Children’s Study, which found that 2% of families suffered from various hardship markers: no parents in work, living in overcrowded housing or the mother suffering mental health problems, for example.
Iain Duncan Smith came up with the 120,000 figure — just out of his head — and the troubled families’ internal problems became something more sinister to frighten us with.
Now the Tories are doing the same to the NHS, claiming mortality rates on a Sunday, in David Cameron’s words, “can be 16% higher than on a Wednesday” (note the “can be”).
But the BBC’s More Or Less, the programme that looks at numbers in the news, diplomatically said that this percentage was “problematic”.
This is because the hospital case load at weekends can be different. People try to avoid going to hospital at weekends and scheduled operations are arranged during the week, both of which mean that those who do go to hospital at weekends have overcome their reluctance to attend, and are not scheduled for treatment. In short: they’re sicker than average and not routine cases.
The death rate would be expected to be higher among these folk, even if staffing was the same.
Although the editor of the British Medical Journal has complained that he misquoted a study, health minister Jeremy Hunt has claimed that people suffering a stroke at weekends are 20% more likely to die. He’s picked strokes because the illness has a definite weekend effect — many other illnesses inconveniently do not, and so are useless for spin.
As far as the 20% goes, it is accurate: of 100 people admitted to hospital on a weekday, nine die within a week whereas, of Sunday admissions, 11 die — two extra deaths per 100.
It’s also true there are fewer staff at weekends — 48% of weekday stroke victims get same-day brain scans, but only 43% do at weekends — but some researchers have still found that it’s the case mix that matters, with more serious cases only coming in when they finally have to. The first few hours after a stroke are crucial and it’s a major killer but no-one can say for sure whether this is because of patchier care or because of the weekend bias — except politicians.
So not statistically reliable enough to answer the Government’s claim that the NHS needs more doctors at weekend but — as with troubled families — they’re going to keep shouting the distorted truth at us until we believe it.
Next number: two.
Since I joined the Chronicle, there have been two district councils — Congleton borough and Cheshire East –—and both have been raided by the police.
Is this a record? How many councils are EVER raided by the police?
Finally: 365, and a happy birthday.
Friday 29th January is the first anniversary of Cheshire West’s local plan being signed off. That’s Cheshire West, the local authority that was created the same day as our own Cheshire East, yet we’re still (at least, we’d guess) a year from our own local plan being finalised. A disgrace.
We might run a counter at the bottom of this column logging the days since Cheshire West’s plan was adopted, up until we get one.
So a final number for you: would our counter end up as more or less than 1,000 days?