The watchdog overseeing the way that ministers utilise official statistics has told the government to be clearer and more exact in its claims about NHS funding.
This order followed an investigation into Theresa May’s contentious claim that she was giving the health service a £10 billion boost.
The UK Statistics Authority assessed the prime minister’s repeated use of the claim after Labour and the British Medical Association complained that the figure was misleading and wrong.
It has asked the Treasury to overhaul how government spending on both the NHS and health more widely is presented in order to minimise the risk of further “confusion” about the size of budget rises.
Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, accused the prime minister of exaggerating the true sum and using “spin” to try to present the government in a better light over the NHS.
Ed Humpherson, the UKSA’s director general for regulation, replied to Ashworth, stating that attempts have been made to improve the way statistics are used.
“The watchdog has considered the statements made and reflected that for any statement drawing on official statistics or other public data the following principles should be followed: the source of the statement should be clear and accessible; aspects pertaining to the data such as time period represented should be clear and; it should be very clear about what is being measured and in what context.”
Humpherson also stated that there can be access issues for such statistics.
“While the Department of Health has been when asked about the nature of the estimated real terms increase in health spending and its split between NHS England and the department’s overall budget, the total health spending figures are much less frequently referred to by government and may be less readily accessible.”
The UKSA will request the Treasury to make serious steps to improve the situation.
“The Treasury must investigate whether in future they can present estimates for NHS England and total health sending separately. I will also explore with officials producing these figures other ways in which they might ensure clarity around sources, time periods and what is being measured, and in what context, when reporting on the level of increase in real budget allocations to NHS England.”
Ashworth stated that the UKSA’s response showed it had endorsed his concerns about the £10 billion figure.
“This response makes clear that the government’s claims about an extra £10 billion for the NHS are very misleading and I’m glad that the UKSA have asked for the government to present the figures more clearly in future.”
NHS trusts accrued a collective deficit of £2.5 billion in the most recent financial year.