Defusing the ‘heart disease timebomb’
A new report caused shocked headlines in the UK yesterday with the suggestion that the National Health Service (NHS) will struggle to cope with a tsunami of chronic disease in the coming decades.
‘The “heart-disease time-bomb”‘, warned the Telegraph. ‘Three in four Britons will be struck by obesity-related illnesses in 20 years (and they’ll be a shortage of 50,000 nurses)’ was the less-than-pithy version offered by the Daily Mail.
This is serious stuff. Curious, I went to the report, produced by the Centre for Workforce Intelligence (CIWF). There, no doubt, would be the detailed calculations and methodology which would illuminate this eye-popping figure. This is what the summary report says:
‘Estimates suggest that three quarters of the population could be suffering from the effects of heart disease, diabetes and related illnesses within two decades, which is a significant jump. Furthermore, the improving trends seen in survival rates for these diseases translate into larger numbers of people needing nursing care.’
That’s it. Because the CIWF is actually a report about figuring out how many nurses might be needed in the future. One of the aspects is to look at potential strains on the NHS and this is one factoid pulled out among many. The CIWF report is simply quoting someone else in passing – NHS Choices, apparently – and isn’t even well-referenced enough to allow the original source to be found. So we have no way of knowing what the stat-spawners included in ‘heart disease, diabetes and related illnesses’. It sounds like it was very broadly defined. Nor do we have any way of knowing what assumptions were made about obesity rates or other factors that might be relevant.
In which case, why did the Telegraph and the Mail run a story they really couldn’t check? And why did they then roll out rent-a-quote activist Tam Fry from the National Obesity Forum to shake his head in sorrow about the unchecked stat? Maybe before we start employing more nurses, we should start by training better journalists.
Rob Lyons is commissioning editor at spiked.