Ministers rebuked for ‘exaggerating’ nurses’ pay rises

The Department of Health and Social Care has been rebuked by the official statistics watchdog over the “poor and misleading” way it presented data on nurses’ pay on social media.

Sir Robert Chote, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, said a graph posted by the DHSC on Twitter “exaggerates” previous pay rises and risked undermining public confidence in official figures.

His intervention comes as up to 100,000 nursing staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland prepare to take part in their biggest ever strike in a long-running dispute over pay.

He stepped in after Labour MP Andrew Gwynne complained that the “y-axis” on the graph did not start at zero but at around £20,000, creating a misleading impression about the scale of past rises.

In reply, Sir Robert said: I agree that this is a poor and misleading representation of the underlying data that risks damaging public confidence in the presentation of official statistics by the department.

“Beginning the y-axis at around £20,000 exaggerates the proportionate increase in pay over the period and for this type of reason, breaks in axes of this sort should usually be avoided or at least shown transparently in the way they are labelled and formatted.

“In addition, the freehand way in which the lines appear to have been drawn suggests a bigger relative increase in pay for newly qualified nurses and a bigger pay premium for ‘a few years’ experience’ than the underlying data justify.”

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Royal College of Nursing general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said  his “damning” intervention demanded an official response from Health Secretary Steve Barclay.

“Sir Robert Chote has used the strongest terms here to cut through the Government’s spin. Ministers have been found out and need to come clean,” she said.

“The Government’s figures did not fool nursing staff who are sharing very difficult stories of personal financial hardship.

“A new and honest debate on nursing pay should show how experienced nurses have lost 20% in real terms in the last decade.”

In response, a DHSC spokeswoman said: “All of the figures are accurate but we accept the data could have been presented more clearly. We are committed to using data accurately and transparently.”