UCL News


Letter: NHS witchcraft

3 February 2007

Sir - Within minutes of the opening of the House of Commons Health Committee's inquiry into NHS deficits, its chairman, Kevin Barron, asked witnesses: "Is the funding formula used to allocate resources to primary care trusts fair?" The question was put repeatedly throughout the inquiry, but the answers that could be extracted from the PCTs and hospital managers shed little light on things.

Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, had the last word and said she was "satisfied that the funding allocations are fair". The committee was clearly unimpressed with such evidence when it concluded.

This week, on the Today programme, Jon Manel missed the opportunity to broadcast this important question.

A majority of professional statisticians would have been able to dismiss the formula as, in all probability, little short of witchcraft - if only its character had been explained for a minute or so.

On Thursday, Miss Hewitt was again given the last word. She did not repeat her expression of satisfaction, but said that the management skill of NHS trusts is a variable quantity and we need look no further than that to explain the deficits.

Professor Mervyn Stone, UCL Statistical Science, 'The Daily Telegraph'