I know that there are plenty of newspapers and magazines that make their bread and butter from sensational headlines. For many, that the headline may be misleading is incidental at best, if it is able to generate sales en route to the recycling bin.
Before yesterday, I would have put The Times into the other category - those who report more responsibly with usually thoughtful commentary on politics and opinion.
Front page of the Sunday Times (Scotland) carried the headline: Scots NHS and 462,000 'avoidable deaths'. The article, by Mark Macaskill, states: The deaths have been blamed on a series of failings, including GPs not recognising symptoms early enough, unacceptable delays for hospital treatment, poor access to drugs and botched operations.
The term used for 'botched operations', incidentally, is 'misadventures during surgery' which does conjure up images of the cast of Grey's Anatomy in pith helmets. But moving on...
Shock! Horror! Nearly half a million people dying for going to the doctor! However, the rest of the article actually reveals the following:
The figure represents a period of 30 years during which time millions upon millions of people would have been treated. In fact, the avoidable death rate for men is 176 for every 100,000 which translates to just 0.17%. For women it's lower, at 123 per 100,000 (0.12%). Figures are shown to be lower in Austria (129 per 100,000) and Italy (100per 100,000) but given the minute figures we're talking about when we get away from that ridiculous headline, I wonder the extent to which they're even statistically significant.
The author of the report, Dr Colin Fischbacher, is also quoted as saying, better treatment could have saved the lives of almost all the patients who died. Considering that many died of cancers and heart disease, both of which can be unpredictable, I find this quite a sweeping statement.
Then, on page 13 is a further diatribe. In an article titled 'The Killing Wards' and illustrated by a picture of a ward with each bed playing host to a coffin (nothing overly dramatic here!), Mr Macaskill reveals that, while undoubtedly the figures for Scotland are higher than other European countries, they have improved significantly over the last 20 years. Of course, this is couched in several column inches of doom and gloom so you really have to look for it. That will happen with good news.
The chief executive of the Patient's Association is quoted as saying:
It's getting to the stage where people are going to be scared of going to hospital. The NHS is supposed to be a wonderful thing but this study makes a mockery of that.
Really? The NHS is a wonderful thing. I reckon a 0.17% chance of something going wrong when you go to hospital is pretty good odds. And, that these figures are improving is impressive to me. Ultimately healthcare professionals are human and human error is always going to be a factor.
Don't get me wrong, if one of my loved ones was the victim of a 'misadventure' I would sue the suckers for all I could - and still be completely gutted. But we are not talking about a crisis here. We are talking about a very small chance of things going wrong when people require medical treatment. I'm actually surprised it's as low as it is.
Even Dr House, with the benefit of a squad of scriptwriters and Hollywood advisers gets it wrong occasionally. Probably somewhere around 0.17% of the time.