Hospital mortality statistics put under spotlight by Francis report

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The statistics behind hospital mortality rates have been questioned by MPs after 14 hospital trusts were named as being under investigation.
 
Bernard Jenkin MP, who chairs the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), wrote to Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, expressing concern over the index used to name five hospitals with the highest rates of mortality, saying it is ‘relatively unproven’.
 
Following the recent publication of the Francis report, the government asked the NHS medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh, to conduct a further investigation into five hospitals with the highest mortality rates. The Francis report looked into what went wrong at Stafford Hospital, where an estimated 400-1200 patients are believed to have died between 2005 and 2009 as a result of poor care.
 
In his letter, Bernard Jenkin pointed out that one index used to identify five hospitals with the highest mortality rates, the Summary Hospital-level Mortality Indicator (SHMI), is ‘a new and relatively unproven indicator’. He also noted that after these five hospitals were identified using SHMI, further hospitals were named using a more established indicator, the Hospital Standardised Mortality Ratio (HSMR).
 
Bernard Jenkin asked Andrew Dilnot if he could advise the government on how these measures of hospital patient mortality could be used ‘without causing undue alarm in the media, and amongst patients, staff and the wider public’.
 
In his response, Andrew Dilnot pointed out that while the SHMI was intended to be a successor to the HSMR, it should not be used as a sole indicator of the quality of care and should be used as part of a range of indicators. As to why both indicators had been used to name the 14 hospitals currently being investigated, Dilnot said that it was a ‘reasonable approach’ since the introduction of the SHMI is relatively recent and both indicators were readily available.
 
The UK Statistics Authority chair promised that the Statistics Authority would ‘do all it can to ensure that these official statistics are properly understood.’
 
Dilnot also indicated that in response to the Francis Report, the Statistics Authority was planning to undertake an independent review of patient outcome statistics, working with the Office for National Statistics, the Department of Health and the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). The findings of this review will be published in summer 2013.
 
Both letters are published on the UK Statistics Authority website.
 

Society launches Journal Club

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The RSS is to host a series of events where authors featured in statistical journals present their papers via a teleconference.
 
Titled ‘Journal club’ the teleconferences will be open to both members and non-members, who can dial-in to participate in the event. Papers and slides will be available to download beforehand online and each event will focus on a particular theme.
 
The first event, a joint session with PSI (Statisticians in the Pharmaceutical Industry), is scheduled for 2pm-3.30pm (BST) on 16 April and will focus on topics in survival analysis. This session will be chaired by James Carpenter of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and features two authors, Abdus S Wahed of the University of Pittsburgh and Nicola Schmitt of AstraZeneca.
 
Each author will present their paper for 20 minutes followed by a 20-minute discussion. Participants are welcome to submit questions before the event and/or take part in the discussion. A podcast will be available shortly after the teleconference to download from the RSS website.
 
The series is sponsored by Quintiles and the first event is also sponsored by Wiley Blackwell. Further information on how to dial in and how to submit a question can be found on the RSS events page and on the PSI website.
 
A flier for the event is also downloadable from here.
 

Former RSS honorary secretary, Sidney Rosenbaum, dies

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It is with much regret that we report the death of a former honorary secretary of the Society, Sidney Rosenbaum.
 
Sidney Rosenbaum was one of the longest serving Fellows of the Society, having been elected in 1948. He served as honorary secretary for the Society between 1966 and 1970, remained on Council until 1974 and was a vice-president between 1972 and 1973. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1956.
 
His career in statistics began after serving in the Second World War; he worked in the Directorate of Army Health in the War Office from 1952 and obtained a PhD in Medical Statistics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 1960. He became a chief statistician at the Treasury and transferred to the Cabinet Office before his final appointment as director of statistics and operational research at the Civil Service College in 1972. After retirement, Sidney worked as a consultant to the DHSS and the Ministry of Technology.
 
Sidney Rosenbaum made a major contribution to our understanding of statistics in the UK with his ‘Report on the use of Statistics in Social Science Research’, published in the Royal Statistical Society’s Series A journal (vol 134, 1971).
 
While an Honorary Secretary of the Society, Sidney also helped create the Guy lecture, a lecture series aimed at sixth form students, which has since become an important feature of the Society’s calendar.
 
A funeral will be held on 27 March on the west side of the New Forest. At Sidney’s request this will be simple and non-religious. If anyone wishes to attend would they kindly inform his son, Michael at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 

UK Data Service website launches

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The newly formed UK Data Service launched its website, ukdataservice.ac.uk, on 21 March 2013.
 
An initiative of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the UK Data Service was established in October 2012 and brings together a number of different established data services: the Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS), the Secure Data Service, census.ac.uk and the Survey Question Bank.
 
The aim of the website is to provide a wide range of social and economic data for social researchers and other interested parties. Among the data provided are large-scale government surveys, international macrodata, business microdata, qualitative studies and census data from 1971 to 2011.
 
Simon Briscoe, of the Service’s governing board, explains the role of the new website in the April edition of RSSNEWS. The article can also be read here.
 
 

New indices introduced to price inflation statistics

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The March 2013 Consumer Prices Index (CPI) Bulletin includes two new measures of price inflation, CPIH and RPIJ.
 
CPIH is a new additional measure of consumer price inflation which takes into account owner occupiers’ housing costs (OOH). For many owner occupiers, the biggest housing cost is the mortgage payment, which is currently excluded from the CPI. In addition, a supplementary aggregate for CPIH (called CPIHY), is also available in this month’s Bulletin.
 
RPIJ, on the other hand, is a Retail Prices Index (RPI) based measure that uses a geometric (Jevons) formula in place of one type of arithmetic formula (Carli). It was launched in January after the National Statistician, Jil Matheson, concluded that the RPI does not meet international standards. Since then, the Office for National Statistics has announced that the current RPI statistics will no longer be designated as National Statistics.
 
Both CPIH and RPIJ are currently designated as experimental statistics while they are being assessed for National Statistics status.
 
The RSS stresses that there is still more work to be done. ‘The introduction of these two new series should not be the end of the story,’ says Jill Leyland, former RSS vice president and member of its National Statistics Advisory Group. ‘Replacing the Carli formula by Jevons in order to create RPIJ does not preclude, for example, the need to introduce improvements to sample design and data collection methods in regard to  difficult sectors such as clothing. The ONS has had a major research programme looking into these issues and this must continue.’
 
The focus of the CPI Bulletin will be reviewed by the ONS after an assessment by the UK Statistics Authority of consumer price statistics is completed this summer (2013).
 
Further information on ONS consumer price statistics is published in the ‘Guide to Data’ section of this month’s CPI Bulletin.
 

getstats hosts pre-budget event in Houses of Parliament

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The Royal Statistical Society hosted a ‘getstats in parliament’ panel event, the day before the UK’s 2013 budget.
 
Panellists included Labour MP Margaret Hodge, current chair of the Public Accounts Committee; Michael Kell, chief economist of the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO); Paul Moxey, head of risk management at ACCA, the global body for professional accountants; and Professor Tony Travers, public finance expert from the London School of Economics. The meeting was chaired by BBC journalist Paul Lewis, who presents Radio 4’s Money Box programme.
 
The lunchtime event was well-attended, with an audience of 120 people working in parliament, including MPs and their staff. Introducing the event, RSS president John Pullinger explained the aims of the Society’s getstats campaign for better statistical literacy.
 
The panel discussion that followed outlined the problems with accessing and understanding public finance data and official statistics on the economy. The Treasury’s own annual report and accounts were ‘obfuscating’, according to Margaret Hodge. The panel also discussed whether sometime data was simply ‘dumped’ into the public domain without proper explanation, and whether some data collections were needed at all.
 
Professor Travers remained unconvinced that year-to-year comparisons could safely be made from much of the material put out by Whitehall departments, as definitions were often changed or series interrupted, making it impossible to establish what might be changing over time.
 
However, the panel also acknowledged that budget documentation has been improving. The level of detail now available in the Treasury’s Whole of Government Accounts was praised, as was the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), created in 2010 to provide independent and authoritative analysis of the UK’s public finances.
 
Overall, the panel agreed the public needed to be better equipped to handle numbers – confirming the need for the RSS getstats campaign to improve statistical literacy.
 
The event was held in association with ACCA and supported by the House of Commons Library and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Statistics. It was the fourth in a series of on-going ‘RSS-getstats in parliament’ events, aimed at boosting statistical literacy in parliament. Others have focused on crime, health and education. The next parliamentary event is scheduled for 2 July.
 
getstats director, David Walker, has written a more detailed report of the pre-budget event on the getstats blog, which can be found here.
 

Mathematical society launches report on advancing women in mathematics

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The London Mathematical Society (LMS) has launched a report looking into the relative scarcity of women in mathematics, particularly in the higher levels of research and teaching in the UK.
 
The report, Advancing women in mathematics: Good practice in UK university departments, examines the ‘surprisingly small’ proportion of women in the UK who go from an undergraduate degree in mathematics to study for a PhD in the subject. Its findings include the fact that although more than 40 per cent of graduates in the mathematical sciences are female, there is a significant drop-off in the proportion of women who become academic mathematicians (6 per cent of mathematics professors in the UK are female).
 
The report also provides insight into areas of good practice and aims to provide inspiration for mathematics departments in universities to address the gender imbalance – an area that is expected to become increasingly important light of the recent statement by the UK Research Councils on Expectations for Equality and Diversity.
 
The report was launched at the House of Commons at the end of February, in an event hosted by MPs Andrew Miller, Stephen Metcalfe, (both members of the Science and Technology Committee) and Julian Huppert (member of the Home Affairs Select Committee). Margaret Wright, from the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University, was guest speaker.
 
The report is available to view on the LMS website (opens as pdf) and hard copies are also available. Further information on the work of the LMS Women in Mathematics Committee is available here.
 

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