by Robert Hughes
Wednesday, 9
February 2022
Spotted
15:49

NHS England deletes misleading Covid stats video

It removed a video claiming 1% of children with Covid are hospitalised
by Robert Hughes
Screengrab from the NHSEngland video

Earlier this month, NHS England tweeted out a video to its half million followers to try to promote the Covid vaccine among children. The video cited a series of worrying, but inaccurate, statistics about the risks that Covid apparently represents to children; one in a hundred children will get sick enough with Covid to be admitted to hospital; 136 children in the UK have died of Covid-19, and 117,000 children are suffering from long covid.

The response duly ‘went viral’, attracting re-tweets from some of the biggest public health influencers online, who shared the report with their hundreds of thousands of followers, endorsing it as “an important message”, “an excellent piece”, “a great video”, and using it to lobby JCVI “when will be able to protect our children?”, and alerting people to “the misinformation out there”, no doubt with good intentions.

But when I watched the video I was left quite concerned and confused. As both a parent and scientist who has been involved in research on symptom duration and severity of covid in children, the cited statistics didn’t make sense to me. The idea that 1% of children with Covid are hospitalised for it didn’t pass the ‘sniff test’. I know how contentious the debates about prolonged symptoms after covid infection have been, and likewise the challenges of estimating covid mortality among children. So the idea of broadcasting confident numbers on this seemed odd, especially from NHS England.

What’s more, the powerful — and important — sharing of a story about “long covid” in a 11-year-old seemed at odds with current UK vaccination guidance, which does not currently advise vaccination of this age group. As a parent of an 8- and 6-year-old, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with this ‘information’. Even more so when I was aware that there is not currently evidence to show that vaccination prevents “long Covid” in children.

What was even more surprising to me was the reaction from both NHS England and many commentators when I raised these points on Twitter and with NHS England directly. I previously worked in government, where every statistic that made it into official comms or a Ministerial speech came with a ‘method note’ to explain it if asked. Yet there was a deafening silence from @NHSEngland when I, and others, asked.

Several people agreed with me, sharing their working for why these numbers are at best long outdated, may be orders of magnitude out, and risk undermining confidence in vaccine communications and uptake.

But others seemed to dig in, praising both the content and tone of the messaging when challenged, and directing the discussion into an important, but different, one about the merits of extending Covid vaccination to children rather than the need for accurate and honest communication about vaccination.

My impression was that some, including influential ‘experts’, felt that the accuracy of the numbers used was secondary to advocacy objectives, i.e. the ends (promoting vaccine uptake) justified the means (using inaccurate, and emotive, statistics and powerful stories). This feels like extremely dangerous ground to me, especially given what we know about the importance of trust in vaccine confidence and uptake, and the recent worrying falls in childhood vaccination.

Having raised this with the Statistics Regulator, I was relieved to have today received the following message:

It is important that figures provided by NHSE&I are accurate and reliable. In this case the claim made in the video fell short of these expectations – we contacted NHSE&I and it acknowledged that the data were historic and had methodological shortcomings. We are therefore glad that the content has now been removed from Twitter.
- Office for Statistics Regulator

It took four days, 150,000+ views, and many hundreds of thousands of shares and impressions before NHS England finally deleted the tweet. I hope in due course these investigations will lead to improvements in the process through which statistics, especially on such an important issue as childhood vaccination, are vetted, ideally before, rather than after, publication/broadcast.

Dr Robert Hughes is a clinical research fellow at Department of Population Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. He tweets at @R_Hughes1

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David Slade
David Slade
4 months ago

Well done on calling this out. There is no such thing as a ‘noble lie’ or a benevolent manipulation. The idea that you can use this kind of dubious messaging so long as it gets the desired end just screams contempt for the average citizen and will ultimately undermine trust.

Maybe NHS England should reread the boy who cried wolf.

jill dowling
jill dowling
4 months ago

More propaganda from the NHS. Are we in the UK or China?

Philip L
Philip L
4 months ago

The public have now been told a thousand sensational lies over the last two years, with the consequence that they genuinely believe they are going to die, or their children are going to die, and so on. It’s going to take decades for the dimwits who terrified them needlessly to earn back the trust they lost, and even then they won’t deserve it.

James Joyce
James Joyce
4 months ago

“136 children have sadly died of Covid in the UK.”
Is this true? Or is this the conflating of any death of a person with Covid as opposed to from Covid? I vaguely remember hearing parents of a child with brain cancer–who died in hospital–protest that the medical boffins were saying that he died from Covid without mentioning his brain cancer.
More disgusting propaganda from the NHS, and shame on the so-called experts who joined the herd in re-tweeting this tosh. Bravo to Twitter for taking this propaganda down immediately, as a violation of the terms of service!
Oh,wait, they didn’t….

Paul Hughes
Paul Hughes
4 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Not true according to the ONS.

Jeff Carr
Jeff Carr
4 months ago

A tangible example of misinformation from Official Sources being used to promote the message THEY want. This type of behaviour is happening more and more frequently undermining confidence in our public servants.
Trust may be an out of date and maligned concept but we lose it at our peril.
It may just be that we are increasingly being served by incompetents. Over promoted and lacking in experience.

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Carr

Overpromoted, inexperienced incompetents? Perhaps we need to resurrect the old adage ‘lions led by donkeys’? (an absolute insult to the poor much maligned beasts, to be sure). Or Is3:4?

Russell Hogg
Russell Hogg
4 months ago

I don’t get this at all. “. . .we contacted NHSE&I and it acknowledged that the data were historic and had methodological shortcomings.” But isn’t the 1% hospitalisation statistic just blatantly false and isn’t that very different from methodological shortcomings? Has NHS&I explained at all?

Fran Martinez
Fran Martinez
4 months ago
Reply to  Russell Hogg

More importantly, will now NHSE&I tweet that their numbers were wrong?
I think taking the video down really falls short, they should apologise at least.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
4 months ago

Joseph Go*bbels , the NHS has surpassed thee!*

(* Apologies to Justinian I.)

Mark Burbidge
Mark Burbidge
4 months ago

Didn’t pass the ‘sniff test’. As with nearly all of the messaging we have had from msm ( main stream maniacs) over the last two years. Has the statistics regulator been asleep most of this time ?

Andrea X
Andrea X
4 months ago

The only surprise is that it took them only 4 days to take it down.
I bet that video (which I never saw) is making its way to Scotland and Wales.

Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
4 months ago

And now parents are uncertain about MMR vaccination ( which almost certainly is a good thing ) because they no longer trust the NHS to tell them the truth about anything. Great work, guys!

Paul Hughes
Paul Hughes
4 months ago

136 children have sadly died OF Covid???
Recent ONS response to FOI application. Question posed was:
‘What was the number of deaths where COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned on the death certificate, 1 February 2020 to 31 December 2021, by sex and age group, England and Wales’.
Answer; fewer than 7000.
https://www.ons.gov.uk/aboutus/transparencyandgovernance/freedomofinformationfoi/covid19deathsandautopsiesfeb2020todec2021
About the same number who died following accidents at home in 2021. Although that was for a 12 month period, while the Covid deaths are for a 23 month period.
Note also that only 3 people under 20 have died from Covid alone.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
4 months ago

Perhaps our very own UnHerd NHS expert:-
Dr Elaine Giedrys-Leeper would care to comment?

Andrea X
Andrea X
4 months ago

Who?

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

A vociferous UnHerd commentator on the NHS and its campaign of national hysteria & panic. She was ‘in action’ yesterday on the Mask controversy.

Dominic A
Dominic A
4 months ago

Accordingly to my admittedly rough calculations (necessary because it’s not getting reported) the UK generally spends around £30,000 to save a year of life – if the condition is covid though, the spend has been £300,000 per year of life saved. This is just one of several major costs (medical, financial, social, psychological & political) from the covid measures that have been under-reported, to put it mildly, by otherwise responsible media. Creating a vacuum into which the lunatic fringe has flooded, which in turn serves to convince the over-reactors of the nobility of their cause….

Fran Martinez
Fran Martinez
4 months ago

Great job!!!

Michael Kellett
Michael Kellett
4 months ago

Sadly, this kind of egregious behaviour by those who rule over us is no longer a surprise. As with all such behaviour, it is very short-sighted because if they’ve lied to us once why would be ever believe them again?