“The death of one man is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” – Joseph Stalin.
It would be an exaggeration, though not a severe one, to say that in the modern west we are ruled by statistics. When government acts on a local level, it is relatively easy for it to see whether its actions are having their desired effect. And when business acts in a free market, there are feedback mechanisms which quickly let the business know how well it is meeting its customer’s needs. A large central government, by contrast, must rely on statistics to judge whether its initiatives have been successful. The problem is that is it often easier to manipulate statistics to show that a given problem is being solved than it is to actually solve the problem.
An example of this can be seen in the case of government run health care. One of the chronic complaints about the National Health Service in Britain, for example, is that people have to wait an unconscionably long time before receiving care. To deal with this problem, the Labour government mandated that patients receive treatment within four hours of arriving at a hospital. The result:
Seriously ill patients are being kept in ambulances outside hospitals for hours so NHS trusts do not miss Government targets.Thousands of people a year are having to wait outside accident and emergency departments because trusts will not let them in until they can treat them within four hours, in line with a Labour pledge.
The hold-ups mean ambulances are not available to answer fresh 999 calls.
Doctors warned last night that the practice of “patient-stacking” was putting patients’ health at risk.
Figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats show that last year 43,576 patients waited longer than one hour before being let into emergency units.
I saw a similar example of this during the last election campaign. At a town meeting event, Tony Blair touted the Labour party’s achievement of ensuring that x percentage of patients in Britain were able to see a doctor within 24 hours. During the question period, he was confronted by several irate women, who had tried to schedule follow-up doctors’ visits a week in advance but were told that they couldn’t do so because of the government quota. Mr. Blair seemed genuinely shocked at this, but I wasn’t terribly surprised. People can be very creative when they have to be.