21 April's BBC Question Time, factchecked

22 April 2016

On the Question Time panel last night were Conservative former defence secretary Liam Fox MP, Labour's Kate Hoey MP, former leader of the Liberal Democrats Lord Ashdown, leader of Plaid Cymru Leanne Wood AM and founder and chairman of Wetherspoon Tim Martin.

We've checked their claims on the EU referendum and doctors. 

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EU referendum

“Since Paddy wants an explanation, the invented statistic, GDP per household, is never used anywhere else in government, never used in the Budget, never used anywhere else.”—Liam Fox MP

GDP per household isn't conventionally used by government as a measure of economic well-being. The Office for National Statistics told us it doesn’t use the figure as one of its economic well-being indicators and it doesn’t show up in recent Budgets. GDP per person is the closest currently used.

A better option is looking at households’ take-home pay, which is what the ONS says gives a full picture of income available to households.

‘GDP per household’ came up because it’s how the government calculated its headline claim this week: that leaving the EU is expected to make families £4,300 worse off, which our factcheck concluded was an unhelpful summary of the underlying research.

It’s from the Treasury’s estimate of the loss to the size of the economy—GDP—from reduced growth if the UK leaves the EU, and negotiates an agreement with the EU like Canada has done.

For lots of reasons, dividing that by the number of households in the UK doesn’t give you a figure that reflects families’ experience.

GDP per household is sometimes used in other contexts by government, for example in transport modelling.

“In terms of facts, Leanne is right, the £350 million they’ve been talking about a week, actually that was checked and a report announced today by Sir Andrew Dilnot in the UKSA statistical agency, whose job it is to say that statistics are accurate, says that that £350 million is totally inaccurate and misleading. The actual figure that we give to the European Union, after taking account of the rebates that we get back, is about £7.8 billion [a year]”—Lord Ashdown

The Chair of the UK’s statistics watchdog didn’t say that. What Sir Andrew Dilnot did say is that  the claim that the UK pays £350 million a week into the EU’s coffers, “alongside the suggestion that this could be spent elsewhere”, is “potentially misleading”. This was in a letter published yesterday.

This is because the UK gets a rebate, or discount, on what we would otherwise be obliged to pay. That means that our payments in 2015 were more like £250 million a week, or £13 billion in total.

To get close to the £7.8 billion figure given by Mr Ashdown, you need to deduct what the EU spends here.

Grants and payments from the EU budget go through both the public sector—such as payments to farmers—and straight to the private sector—such as research grants. If we left the EU, the government could spend this money elsewhere if it wanted.

Once these payments are taken into account, the UK Statistics Authority cites a figure of £7.1 billion (an average for the past few years) for the UK’s ‘net’ contribution—or money that the Treasury would save even if it matched existing EU payments to the likes of farmers and researchers.

You can find out more details here.


“The General Medical Council have said it [the strike] may well lead to doctors being potentially struck off if patients were to die as a result of their actions.”—Liam Fox MP

The General Medical Council told us it would not take action against a doctor for exercising their legal right to strike.

But it said it would investigate “information suggesting that a doctor’s actions during the taking of such industrial action had caused a patient serious harm, or put patients at risk of serious harm, whatever the motive underlying the doctor’s actions.”

It added that “All doctors are personally accountable for their professional practice and must be prepared to justify their decisions and actions.”

So its guidance for doctors taking part in the strike advises that:

“Any doctor taking action should take reasonable steps to satisfy themselves about the arrangements being made during the period when they are withdrawing their labour.”

“If, during the industrial action, it becomes clear that patients are at risk in a local area because of inadequate medical cover, and doctors in training are asked in good faith to return to work by employers, we expect they would fulfil this request. In the event of an emergency, we know doctors in training will always come forward. Where contingency plans are overwhelmed, it is vital that doctors taking action can be contacted and are available to help.”

“In Wales we’ve got fewer doctors per head in the population than in any other country in the EU - sorry in the UK - and there are only three other countries in the EU that have fewer doctors per head of the population than we do”—Leanne Wood AM

We asked Plaid Cymru how it calculated this. Using its methods, there were 2.7 doctors in Wales for every 1,000 people in 2013 and 2014. That includes hospital doctors and most GPs, and excludes dentists, using figures from the Welsh statistics agency. This excludes doctors training to be GPs—it rises to 2.75 when including those.  

Ms Wood is correct that that appears to be fewer doctors per person than in other EU countries, according to a separate, slightly older set of data from the OECD (which includes GP trainees), apart from in Slovenia (2.6), Romania (2.5), and Poland (2.2).

The OECD puts the UK average at 2.8 doctors per 1,000 people.

Getting directly comparable figures between the four nations which focus on hospital doctors and GPs is a bit tricky, as they’re all measured and published in slightly different ways.

Analysis by the Nuffield Trust in 2011 found that that Wales had the second lowest number of hospital doctors per 1,000 people in the UK, just above England, and the lowest number of GPs per 1,000 people (that was also the case for GPs in 2014).


Round up posts like this—and those we publish for PMQs and major speeches by politicians—don't go into as much depth as our usual articles or cover every claim made in the show. Often they are done under a much shorter deadline, so we prioritise a clear conclusion above all else. As always we welcome feedback: please email the team on team@fullfact.org.


UPDATE 26 Apr 2016: In the first section, we added the line: "GDP per household is sometimes used in other contexts by government, for example in transport modelling."

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