BBC Question Time, factchecked

Published: 27th Jan 2017

The Article 50 bill

“That bill, the Article 50 bill, which is designed to do nothing more than to start the negotiating process, has 133 words and Angus [Robertson] criticises it for not having enough words. Well, the bit of legislation enabling women to become members of Parliament had 70 words in it.”

James Cleverly MP, 26 January 2017

Parliament is being asked to pass a law allowing the Prime Minister to begin the process of leaving the EU by triggering Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill does have 133 words in it. Some are standard to any bill: the actual heart of the draft law only amounts to 50 words.

Women got the right to sit in parliament in 1918. The first woman to be elected was Constance Markievicz, for Dublin St. Patrick’s, although as an Irish republican she chose not take up her seat. American-born Nancy Astor was the first woman to actually sit in the House of Commons.

The law enabling women to become MPs comes to 95 words, by our reckoning. But the point that the length of a law is irrelevant to its importance is spot on. The Supreme Court said as much on 24 January.

But it’s not correct to say that the bill does “nothing more” than start the negotiating process. Because of the way Article 50 is designed, triggering it ends the UK’s membership once two years have passed, unless there is a negotiated deal setting another date, or the negotiations are extended.

And, technically, it doesn’t start the negotiation/exit process anyway. It just gives the Prime Minister permission to do so. Even if the bill passes in its current form, there’ll still be no legal requirement for the UK to leave.

About 3.2 million citizens of other EU countries live in the UK

“We will be fighting to get the best Brexit we can. We will be fighting first and foremost to do something for the 30,000 EU nationals living in this country which have a terrible shadow of uncertainty over them.”

Diane Abbott MP, 27 January 2017

The figure Ms Abbott uses is wrong.

Around 3.2 million people living in the UK in 2015 were citizens of another EU country—about 5% of the UK population.

Some of them face an uncertain future in the UK, because we don’t yet know what arrangements the UK will make after free movement of citizens comes to an end. The government has so far signalled it aims to protect the long-term status of EU residents here.

Figures from a few years ago suggested that just over half of them arrived between 2006 and 2014.

We’ve written about this before in our piece on EU immigration into the UK.

Figures for 2015 suggest that 1.2 million people born in the UK live in other EU countries, and we’ve looked at those estimates in detail before too.

For the moment we’re assuming that the mistake was a slip of the tongue, but we’ve asked Ms Abbott if she meant to refer to something more specific.

The NHS: low cost healthcare?

“As a nation, we have to pay more for our NHS. It is the lowest cost healthcare almost in the world, I think, for what we are getting.”

Susie Boniface, 26 January 2017

This could be a claim about the NHS being efficient or being underfunded, compared to other countries.

The UK health system was ranked first out of 11 developed countries for efficiency in 2013, in a widely cited study by the Commonwealth Fund.

But Ms Boniface told us that she might have been thinking of figures from the NHS Confederation on spending on healthcare as a percentage of GDP.

The Confederation, which represents organisations within the NHS such as hospital trusts, does point to the UK being below the USA, Germany, France, Netherlands, Denmark and Canada, on this measure.

A different comparison from the Office for National Statistics puts the UK sixth in the G7 group of countries, or fifth out of seven excluding private spending.

The NHS Confederation’s figures come from the OECD, a bigger club of 35 relatively wealthy nations. Looking across all 35, the UK actually spends more than the average on health.

However, the definition of health spending used for this comparison includes private healthcare and social care. Go back a few years to when the definition was different, and the UK came out below average.

As we’ve said before, these comparisons are tricky.

The total number of missed GP appointments

“There were some statistics I saw in the Times today that there are 14 million missed doctor’s appointments every year.”

Geoff Norcott, 26 January 2017

Information on the number of missed GP appointments isn’t gathered centrally by the NHS or the government. The best information we have seems to come from surveys.

The estimate Mr Norcott quoted matches a survey of 500 GPs in 2015, taken by GP Online. We’ve asked the magazine for some more detail on how that survey was carried out.

We’ve seen similar figures quoted elsewhere. About three years ago, NHS England said that more than 12 million GP appointments are missed each year in the UK. We’ve asked NHS England where these figures came from and whether they’ve published more up-to-date estimates since then.

And we don’t know exactly what this represents as a proportion of GP attendances either.

Perhaps surprisingly, no-one routinely collects figures about what goes on in GP surgeries across England.

The last recorded data on the number of appointments at GP surgeries found an estimated 300 million GP consultations a year took place in 2008, but no figures are available since then.

Some reports have used trends in earlier data to estimate how many GP appointments there are now. In 2014, one report estimated that there would be around 380 million consultations in GP surgeries in 2015/16.

Estimates like this come with some serious health warnings, but if that were roughly correct then 14 million missed appointments, as a ballpark figure, would represent something like 3-4% of all GP appointments in the year that GP Online carried out their survey.


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