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Editor's blog Friday 28 January 2011: Confusing people with evidence and facts

"What I tell you three times is true" - Lewis Carroll, 'The Hunting Of the Snark'

The political case for NHS reforms has become serious news, and last week's NHS week is still nto played out. Ministers are parrotting party lines about myths, which we shall analyse shortly.

Today, the iridescent Professor John Appleby, Kings Fund chief economist, has made a significant intervention in the policy conversation. And he's only gone and used data.

Yes, facts.

His new 'Data Briefing' series for the BMJ launches with this column, pointing out that the simplistic allegation that UK health outcomes are significantly worse than those of comparable European nations is far from sound.

Appleby looks at NHS outcomes in comparison with those in our nearest continental neighbour France, and finds that if current rends continue, UK acute myocardial infarction survival rates could be better than those in France by 2012. Yes, next year.

Looking at cancer age-standardised death rates, he also suggests that if current trends continue, UK rates will be lower than French ones in a few years.

He points out that while there is no direct correlation between spending levels and outcomes, French health spending is 28% higher than the UKs (11.2% of GDP versus the UK's 8.7% in 2008).

On BBC Radio 4's Today this morning, he explained why the figures for AMI in just one year, 2007, are "a little bit misleading ... the figures are factually right, but the interpretation and I think the impression is being given that we're a long way behind France".

Asked how this relates to the Government's case for NHS reform, Appleby continued, "If this is the sole justification, then ... there is a question mark, at least here, around this part of the justification for reform".

Also seeking evidence is John's fellow health economist, the legendary Professor Alan Maynard, whose latest column here on Health Policy Insight asks for the evidence to justify a primary care-led NHS. Enjoy.