HEALTH Secretary Shona Robison has been pulled up by the UK Statistics Authority after making negative comparisons with the NHS in England.

The UKSA found that a recent statement by Robison on delayed discharges was “ambiguous” and had the "potential to mislead".

Donald Cameron, a Scottish Tory MSP, said: “This is an embarrassing rebuke for the health secretary.”

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Delayed discharges in hospitals - otherwise known as bed blocking - continues amid growing concerns about a funding crisis in the health service.

In February, a 11% fall in the problem was reported and Robison made an explicit comparison with the health service south of the border:

“While these figures show delayed discharges at the lowest level since June 2016, we need to build on the good work already being done and which has led to a year-on-year reduction of seven per cent compared to the NHS in England, which is seeing a 27 per cent rise in the number of bed days lost."

The UKSA, which assesses the statistical claims made by public bodies, launched a probe into whether the comparison was appropriate.

In a letter to Roger Halliday, the Scottish government’s Chief Statistician, UKSA director general for regulation Ed Humpherson stated:

“We have concluded that these comparisons are ambiguous and have the potential to mislead.”

Humpherson said that, although the NHS in Scotland and England use measurements that translate into the total number of lost “bed days”, the base definitions were different.

NHS England counts in-patients who have been assessed as ready to be discharged home or to an alternative NHS hospital setting.

However, according to the UKSA, the measurement in Scotland does not include in-patients who are waiting to move to a different part of the NHS.

In Scotland, the UKSA also stated that an individual will be counted once regardless of how long they stay in hospital when ready for discharge.

In NHS England, a patient staying for three days past their discharge date counts as three bed days lost.

Humpherson wrote: “As you know, we expect government producers of statistics to produce and use statistical information responsibly to ensure public trust in statistics is maintained.”

He added that he was “pleased” the government was “reviewing” their briefing material on delayed discharges.

Cameron said: “The SNP needs to stop trying, and failing, to justify its own performance by comparing it to the NHS in England, and focus on improving the health service here. The SNP has spent years trying to find weird and wonderful ways to show bed blocking isn’t as bad as everyone knows it is.

“Now that approach has been caught out, and Shona Robison has to explain what she is going to do to meaningfully address this unacceptable situation.”

Labour MSP Anas Sarwar said: "The experts at the UKSA are right to criticise Shona Robison. She is trying to spin her way out of a broken promise. She promised to abolish delayed discharge by the end of 2016. Instead, last year, delayed discharge in Scotland was so bad it could have filled every single bed in three large Scottish hospitals every single day of the year.

A Scottish government spokesman said: “It is a fact that the number of bed days lost to delay in Scotland has declined for a third consecutive month, while delays over three days have also continued on a downward trend, meaning fewer people are experiencing longer delays in their discharge.

“The Scottish government values high-quality trustworthy statistics, and has a strong record in using statistics to improve well-being of people in Scotland. We will continue to work with the UKSA, who, as their letter says, are content with our actions taken.”