Nicola Sturgeon faced questions in the Scottish Parliament on her government’s handling of the NHS on Thursday.
Her opponent, Conservative Douglass Ross, told MSPs that one patient had waited 84 hours in accident and emergency, which he said his party had discovered through a Freedom of Information request.
The First Minister conceded that Scottish A&E performance is “not good enough”, but went on to claim that:
“In terms of long waits, 12 hour waits are 50 times more in England than they are in Scotland”
Let’s take a look.
The Scottish government pointed FactCheck to NHS stats, which show that 945,072 people waited more than 12 hours in England A&E departments in 2021-22.
That’s 48 times larger than the figure for Scotland (19,667) – which is the basis of Ms Sturgeon’s “50 times more” claim.
But what the First Minister didn’t mention was that this comparison does not account for the difference in population between the two nations.
That’s crucial because Scotland’s population is much smaller than England’s. Even if the two nations were suffering from this problem to the same extent, England would still see more individual cases simply because it’s bigger.
So what happens when we do a like-for-like comparison?
When we first approached them, the Scottish government told FactCheck that “an additional analysis would be that per head of population the number of 12 hour waiters in England is 4.6 times higher than in Scotland”.
That’s not “50 times more”, as Ms Sturgeon claimed.
And when we look at the proportion of people turning up at A&E who have to wait over 12 hours, we see the rate of these long waits is 3.8 times higher in England than Scotland. (5.8 per cent in England versus 1.5 per cent in Scotland.)
A Scottish government spokesperson told FactCheck:
“As the First Minister set out, the number of 12 hour waits in England was around 50 times higher than in Scotland, which is in the context of England being around 10.4 times larger in population than Scotland. As a result it can also be expressed that, per head of population, 12 hours waits in England are proportionately 4.6 times worse in England than in Scotland.
“These different expressions of the relative position between England and Scotland are all accurate representations of the published information.”
Nicola Sturgeon claimed that “12 hour waits are 50 times more in England than they are in Scotland”.
But this figure does not account for the difference in population, or the number of A&E attendances, in the two nations.
As the Scottish government itself told FactCheck, per head of population, the number of these long waits is around five times higher in England than Scotland. That’s substantially less than “50 times more”, as the First Minister claimed.
A Scottish government spokesperson said the raw figure and per capita comparisons are “all accurate representations of the published information.”