After the fact – Jeremy Hunt vs Ralf Little

12 January 2018 | Cassie Staines

In November last year, the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, and the actor, Ralf Little, had a heated debate on Twitter about the state of mental health provision in the UK.

The Twitter argument attracted a lot of attention, and was picked up widely in the media. During the exchange, both sides invited factcheckers to assess their claims. 

We weren’t interested in who won the argument, or who got the most retweets, but we did want to make sure that you have access to the facts behind these.

So we did what we do best, and we factchecked.

In December we published a series of articles that looked at the individual claims being made by both sides. So who was right? Well, you can read and decide for yourself.

What we can say for sure is that we found examples in the debate where we couldn’t find the source of the figures being used. The people responsible for these missing sources couldn’t tell us where to find the information.

We don’t think that’s good enough.

So what’s next?

Overall mental health spending

Last year the Chief Executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens, told a committee of MPs that overall spending on mental health had gone up. Mr Hunt and the Prime Minister have since repeated this. But neither NHS England nor the Department of Health were able to provide us with the source of those figures. So we’ve written to the Chair of the committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston, to ask for her help in getting NHS England to make the source publicly available.

Unpublished statistics on crisis care

On Twitter, Mr Hunt made comments about the roll-out of crisis care in Accident and Emergency Departments, known as liaison services. When we looked into the figures, we discovered that they hadn’t been published – this is against the principle of equal access set out in The Code of Practice for Official Statistics. We’ve written to the Office for Statistics Regulation and asked them to help us to secure the publication of these statistics.

Classifying mental health workforce

The Health Secretary made a claim on Twitter about the increase in the number of staff working in mental health trusts. We found that although the figures quoted are accurate, the way that the numbers were selected and presented was confusing and misleading. We’ve written to the UK Statistics Authority to ask what responsibility Ministers have when selecting from the range of figures available and whether it’s appropriate for the Health Secretary to continue to cite these figures like this.

We’ll let you know what they say, and in the meantime we’ll keep pushing for facts to be used accurately and transparently in public debate.

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