Why Our Leaders Need To Understand Data

April 26 2016 marked one of the saddest days in the history of the NHS in the UK, as for the first time there was a full strike from the service’s junior doctors (every doctor under consultant rank). The reason for this is because UK health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is attempting to impose a new contract on them to create a new ‘7 day NHS’.

Although there has been widespread support for the doctors across the UK, one of the key points undermining Jeremy Hunt’s position is that he has little to no data to back up his new contract and the claims about why it is needed. For instance, his main argument is that he needs to prevent the ‘6,000 yearly deaths’ caused by weekend staffing issues in the NHS, but the author of the study that he quotes has himself said that this data is wrong.

Even the day before these historical strikes, he was roundly criticized for not adopting a pilot scheme to try out the contract in some hospitals. Rather than gathering data on the impacts that it would have in the long run, he attempted to make a political statement.

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The case for whether the new junior doctor’s contract is a good or bad idea is one thing, but the ignorance of the data surrounding the issue is the most damning indictment of his leadership. In the same way, that analysis and modelling hasn’t been done to at least attempt to see the impact in future, the minister’s reliance on false data is troubling. Data is everywhere in our society, and people do not want to have decisions made that will undoubtedly have a huge impact on their lives without data to back it up.

It is not simply in the decisions that our leaders make with data, but also the importance that people place on their own data. Governmental spying on people’s personal data has done substantial damage to the relationship between citizens and governments across the world. Those who did the spying have been chastised and those who allowed it to happen have been equally impacted.

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