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Copyright © 2003, MCB UP Limited
Lessons for us all? The National Health Service in the UK is probably one of the best of its kind in the world. It is free at the point of need which bring great advantages to the seriously sick. The demands for its services therefore are huge, costly and, in an ageing population, ever increasing. This is in contrast to the aims of the service when it was first established in the 1940s. Then it was hoped that the demand for its services would reduce once the backlog of patients' needs had been addressed. However as governments since then have discovered the medical needs of patients are endless and the medical responses to the huge variety of human ailments has become more successful, more innovative and more expensive.
This particular government has managed all of the services it delivers by ways that we would all recognise. They are performance driven, benchmarked against other services, league tables have been drawn up and carrots of more independence from central government departments are being offered to the most successful. The temptation for administrators to construct the statistics in the most favourable light therefore is high. This year two hospital managers lost their jobs because they had been very economical with the truth. One, when interviewed, explained the events which led to the ending of her career. She had taken the post when the previous management had found it difficult to cope with the work load. The systems were chaotic. It took her two years to become confident in the new systems and to produce what she knew to be accurate statistics. These painted a very different picture of the service and would have resulted in the hospital sinking dramatically down the league tables. When she presented them to her management committee they refused to accept them, the costs would be too high. Thus she massaged the data and lost her job.
There are two kinds of statistics claimed Rex Todhunter Stout, "the kind you look up and the kind you make up".
These and other issues will be discussed at the 5th Northumbria International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries and Information Services "Library measures to fill the void: assessing outcomes" Monday 28 July-Thursday 31 July 2003, Collingwood College, Durham, UK. There will be over 50 papers at this lively and interesting meeting set in the world heritage city of Durham, with the conference dinner in a beautiful medieval castle. I look forward to seeing you there.
Note1 Stout, R.T. (1886-1975), Bloomsbury Biographical Dictionary of Quotations, xreferplus, available at: www.xreferplus.com