3 December's BBC Question Time, factchecked

Published: 4th Dec 2015

On the Question Time panel last night were Conservative education secretary Nicky Morgan MP, Labour's shadow international development secretary Diane Abbott MP, the Green Party's Caroline Lucas MP, co-founder of the Quilliam anti-extremism think tank Maajid Nawaz, and former director of the Centre for Policy Studies Jill Kirby.

We factchecked their claims on junior doctors' pay, air strikes, the Syrian civil war, and excess deaths in hospitals at the weekend.

Air strikes in Iraq

"Do you now think that it's right to be using British air power in Iraq against IS?" —David Dimbleby

"It's legal."—Diane Abbott

As British air strikes are extended from Iraq to Syria, David Dimblebly turned attention to existing operations.

The government says that this case was relatively clear cut under international law.This seems fair: Iraq requested military assistance, and when a state requests the use of military force on its territory, there isn't an issue of violating political independence or territorial integrity.

There hasn't been such a request in the case of Syria. The government's argument for the legality of strikes there rests on self-defence.

And from a domestic perspective, while MPs voted to support military action in both countries, legally the government didn't need the permission of parliament to use military force.

That said, there is an accepted convention that the government will consult MPs before doing so. This is a political constraint, rather than a legal one: a constitutional convention is a settled political understanding, and can be broken.

Syrian civil war

"You have a Syrian civil war in which 10.5 million people have been displaced from their homes, 4 million people have fled the country, 250,000 Muslims have been killed."—Nicky Morgan

This isn't far off the latest figures provided by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

At the end of November, there were 6.6 million Syrians who had fled their homes without leaving the country, and another 4.3 million Syrian refugees who had left the country, for a total of 10.9 million displaced people.

OCHA state that over 250,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict so far, a figure that isn't broken down by religion.

It can be difficult to get good estimates for these figures during a conflict (see more here).

Weekend hospital deaths

"They seem to have been ill advised to imply that the lack of Junior doctors at the weekend was causing a very large increase in the number of deaths. I don't think that's as clear cut as was laid out, although there are some issues at the weekend that need to be addressed"—audience member

"I think there is evidence that shows that if you're admitted and need something serious done at the weekend, then your chances of survival can be less."—Nicky Morgan

A number of studies have found that patients admitted to hospital at weekends are more likely to die within 30 days than people admitted at other times of the week.

The studies try to factor in relevant information about patients so that the comparison for different days of the week is meaningful. That's because some patients arrive at hospital already with a higher risk of mortality, because of factors like their age or medical history.

But critics of this kind of method have argued it's not possible to control for everything.

And all of the studies were careful to avoid giving a reason for these deaths. The most recent said:"It is not possible to ascertain the extent to which these excess deaths may be preventable; to assume that they are avoidable would be rash and misleading".

Full Fact has written to the Secretary of State for Health to ask him to correct his claim in the House of Commons that "there are 11,000 excess deaths because we do not staff our hospitals properly at weekends."

Junior doctors' pay

"Their position is perfectly clear. They say it's phony that they're getting a 11% pay increase, they're actually going to lose 30% of their salaries, according to their union."—David Dimbleby

The government's proposed contract for junior doctors—the one that is currently being negotiated—involves a rise in basic pay of 11% on average. This would be the pay the doctors get for core working hours, which would be extended under the new system to take in weekday evenings from 7pm to 10pm, and Saturdays from 7am to 7pm.

That means those who currently work a lot of shifts on weekday evenings, or Saturday mornings, could see their income fall. The rise in basic pay would, for some, not be enough to offset the lost income from these hours no longer having the increased pay that comes with  working at antisocial times.

The government has offered to include "pay protection" for junior doctors for a limited period (up to 2019). This means until 2019 junior doctors will have their pay supplemented if it falls below the pay they were receiving in October this year—so in the near future they won't be 'worse off' than they were before the contract change. However, in a parallel universe where there had been no change to the contract, some doctors would have been better off because of the way pay rises along with experience and responsibility.  

Various estimates have been given for the real terms loss to doctors. There's no simple way to quantify what the impact would be on a 'typical' junior doctor's pay. It depends not only on what their current hours are but what roles they would have moved into, and whether they take time out for example to study or for family reasons.

See our guide to the dispute for more details on the proposed contract and objections to it.

Junior doctors' strike vote

"The Junior Doctors strike, which was called off. Remember, 98% of doctors—37,000 of them—voted for a strike."—David Dimbleby

37,000 is the number of junior doctors who were balloted, not who voted to strike. Not all junior doctors were balloted, and not all those who were balloted cast a vote.

98% of junior doctors who are members of the British Medical Association (BMA) and who voted in in the ballot said they'd be prepared to strike. That's somewhere around half of all junior doctors.

The BMA balloted over 37,000 junior doctors. 28,000 responded, and of these 98% voted to strike. 9,000 didn't respond.

The BMA have told us there are around 53,000 junior doctors, while the Department for Health put their numbers at 60,000, meaning somewhere between 47% and 52% of all junior doctors voted to strike.

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


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We aim for our factchecks to be as accurate and up-to-date as possible. If you think we've made an error or missed some relevant information, please email team@fullfact.org.

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