A million ways to lie

The BBC’s coverage of this story about NHS agency staff is unusually muted and almost balanced. As Wings Over Scotland points out, the rest of the media has been more characteristically eager to put the usual #SNPBAD spin on things.

Typical spin

Typical negative spin from British media

There are two aspects of this spin worth noting for future reference. They are propaganda techniques which are all too commonly used to deceive the unwary consumer of media messages.

The first of these is illustrated by the way the use of agency staff is assumed to be “A VERY BAND THING”. No explanation is offered as to why it is “A VERY BAD THING”. It just is. The language is chosen and used quite purposefully to give this impression.

The second thing is the risible avoidance of an obvious explanation. Use of agency staff is not “A VERY BAD THING”. It is what provides flexibility and allows NHS Scotland to cope with unforeseen – and often unforeseeable – changes in circumstances. Running a massive public health service is not like manufacturing widgets or selling “financial products”. Stuff happens. The NHS has to be equipped to deal with that stuff. And however expensive it is to hire agency staff, it’s not nearly as costly as employing permanent staff who are surplus to “normal” requirements.

That’s part of the obvious explanation that’s studiously avoided in order to manufacture yet another bit of #SNPBAD propaganda out of what is, in reality, a good news story. The other point relates to the increase in use of agency staff.

If, as seems reasonable to suppose, agency staff are a percentage of those working within NHS Scotland at any given time, then any increase in the number of directly employed personnel must inevitably lead to a proportionate increase in the number of agency people being used.

Similarly, if the number of agency staff being used is related to the number of patients being treated and/or procedures being carried out, as seems more than likely, then this too will mean that the number of agency staff used is actually a fair indicator of how effectively NHS Scotland is performing.

Beware the media! They lie in so many ways!

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