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Friday, September 07, 2012

Oldies and drink - don't believe the statistics


The BBC is well known for having a cadre of trusty presenters and programme makers. Not surprisingly, you keep seeing the same faces appearing. 

When the Beeb wants to make a programme about oldies they always go and dust off Joan Bakewell. She is a trusted pair of hands who can deliver whatever message the programme makers have come up with.

The subject of a forthcoming BBC Panorama programme is about the ‘crisis’ in the level of drinking of the over-65s. Joan will be doing a bit of the confessional stuff about how she probably has a few too many glasses of Sauvignon Blanc that is good for her, as she 'explores' the subject: 'Am I drinking too much in old age?'

If you go and look at the programme description you see the startling fact that: Last year, there were more admissions to hospital of pensioners for alcohol-related injuries and illnesses than 16-24 year olds.

Now, I have a lot of contact with the medical profession and the law and I am more than aware of the high levels of drink related crime and illness. Most of what I see is happening is to young people. So I have to confess to finding this statistic strange – if not unbelievable.

I tried to find the source for this data and there is a lot of talk about research from a couple of universities that you have never heard about.

I decided to do a little bit of digging and found the marvellous web site Straight Statistics that had covered this very subject.

It would seem that there are new guidelines from the Department of Health to radically improve the way that drink statistics are collected. 

Only the NHS could muck-up the way it collects data to this extent. Apparently, if you are an oldie and get admitted to hospital you are likely to have several conditions. So for instance a lung cancer patient might, also suffer from high blood pressure.

As it currently stands, although it is the cancer for which the patient is being treated, high blood pressure will also be recorded on his or her notes, and “coded” by clerks. Lung cancer is not an alcohol-related disease, but high blood pressure is. So this admission will be counted as some fraction (around 0.3) as being an “alcohol-attributable” admission, even though that was not the actual reason for the patient going into hospital. 

Of course the way the data should be collected is using the actual, not the theoretical reason reason for admission.

Basically, the NHS admission statistics for alcohol are not worth the paper or the disk-space they are written on.

I wonder if poor old Joan knows or understands that she is about to make a complete idiot of herself because the statistics upon which the programme is based are - I am 99% sure – useless, since they are not using new Department of Health guidelines.

Just goes to show that you have to dig behind the numbers. 

The BBC started with a ‘crisis’ and then retrofitted the numbers to justify it. Just think how much nonsense it broadcasts about older people, although I am sure it is not just limited to them. 

If I am wrong and the programme is based on the latest way of codifying patient admissions then please tell me. Dick Stroud

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