The UK’s statistics watchdog is investigating an apparent error by Scotland’s health minister after he claimed 10 children are in hospital because of Covid-19.
Humza Yousaf’s use of data during a radio interview this week is being assessed by the UK Statistics Authority amid concerns it was misleading.
Mr Yousaf, just weeks into his new post, said that, as of last week, 10 children aged nine or under were in hospital “because of Covid”.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney then suggested the virus could now be more dangerous to youngsters than earlier in the pandemic, causing huge alarm among parents.
But the Scottish Government’s own data, published late on Thursday, showed the youngsters’ illnesses are not necessarily due to the coronavirus.
‘Misleading’ use of statistics
The raw information only showed hospital admissions — a category which can include patients without any symptoms but who test positive on arrival or during stays.
Scottish Conservative shadow health minister Annie Wells, who is an MSP for Glasgow, described the comments as “misleading” in a letter to the UK Statistics Authority.
She also said Mr Yousaf caused “needless alarm”.
It is understood the watchdog is unlikely to make a public intervention over the comments but has confirmed it is assessing the evidence.
Scottish Labour MSP Claire Baker, who this week called on Mr Yousaf to explain his “alarmist” comments, says parents were left worried by the claims.
The Mid Scotland and Fife representative said: “The Cabinet Secretary for Health must take seriously the responsibility he has during this difficult time to give clear and accurate information to the public.
“His statement has caused unnecessary alarm and confusion, which was exacerbated by further comments from the Deputy First Minister.
“The government’s delays and obfuscations has caused confusion, and it is unacceptable that they have still not clarified the risk to children, while their use of figures is clearly being challenged by medics.”
Ms Baker says the watchdog investigation is “very concerning” and called for the former justice secretary to apologise.
She added: “So far, while Humza Yousaf has tweeted regret for causing alarm, he has not accepted or admitted that it was incorrect to claim that 10 children were hospitalised due to coronavirus, and for this he must apologise.
“Being in charge of Scotland’s health service is a significant role, now more than ever, and Mr Yousaf must ensure he always provides clear and accurate information.
“It is very concerning that his comments have led to an investigation by the UK Statistics Authority, and while he is new in the job, he must reflect on his responsibility and ensure he has the ability to fulfil that role.”
Yes, you can travel between Level 1 & Level 2 areas, but soft play is not open in Level 2 because we judge the risk too high.
Again, my main message was to urge caution, not to cause any undue alarm, I regret if that was the case.
— Humza Yousaf (@HumzaYousaf) June 3, 2021
Amid pressure from journalists, the Scottish Government took two full days to publish the data quoted by Mr Yousaf.
Even then, the error was not acknowledged until Mr Yousaf himself Tweeted about his “regret” late Thursday evening.
Nicola Sturgeon addresses concerns
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said at lunchtime on Friday during a Covid briefing that her health secretary used the wrong turn of phrase.
She said: “We are all trying to do our best in a difficult situation.
“We have to be very careful about statistics and how statistics are described and presented …
“Humza answered a question about should a parent in level 2 take their kid to a soft play in level 1, it was in the context of that question that he was making the point with reference to the small number of children in hospital that it isn’t the case that there is no risk to children in the course of this.
“And he used a word that was not the correct word to use there, nobody meant to do that.
“We are trying to give people the best assessment of the risks as we possibly can to allow people, as far as possible within all the rules that are set, to make the best judgements.”
A spokesperson for the UK Statistics Authority said: “We are aware that the Scottish Government published an ad-hoc release of statistics quoted by the Health Secretary in a broadcast interview on June 2, and that he also has now publicly clarified his statements with reference to this release.”