Health secretary Humza Yousaf rapped on knuckles by statistics authority over children with Covid gaffe

Humza Yousaf has been slapped on the wrist by the statistics regulator over his claim there were ten children in hospital in Scotland “because of Covid-19”.

The new health secretary was forced to apologise for any “undue alarm” after he used the figure when warning of the risks of travelling between level one and level two to go to a soft play.

The claim was also rubbished by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which said there was “no evidence” of a rise in hospital admissions of children with Covid-19.

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Humza Yousaf apologised for any "undue alarm" over his use of the statistics.

The controversy around the use of the figures led to the Scottish Conservatives complaining to the statistics regulatory, alleging their use caused “needless alarm and were a misuse of statistics”.

Following the complaint, Ed Humpherson, the director general for regulation at the Office for Statistics Regulation, criticised Mr Yousaf for an “inaccurate” use of the hospital admissions figures.

Writing to the chief statistician and data officer of the Scottish Government, Roger Halliday, Mr Humpherson criticised the fact the figures were not publicly available when mentioned by the health secretary.

The letter states: “By way of background, the figure used was not available publicly at the time the statement was made and it was inaccurately presented.

"We were pleased to see that the figure used by the Scottish Cabinet secretary for health and social care was published as part of an ad-hoc release which included an explanatory note to support any future interpretation. 

"It is also encouraging to hear that Public Health Scotland (PHS) is now working to publish data on the age ranges of those hospitalised on a more routine basis to meet public interest in these data.

"We would encourage as part of this work, if possible, to include if the admissions were because of Covid-19 or if the primary reason for admission to hospital was for something else. We highlighted this as a data gap in  a statement we published in December 2020.”

He added: “Whilst we understand that on this occasion, it was a genuine mistake, which was quickly corrected, I would like to reiterate the importance of ensuring ministers are appropriately briefed and any figures referred to publicly must be made available.”

Following the comments on Wednesday morning, The Scotsman asked for the figures referenced by Mr Yousaf only to be referred to Public Health Scotland by the Scottish Government.

PHS told the newspaper they did not hold the figures, while the Scottish Government claimed it couldn't publish the figures due to patient confidentiality.

The figures were later published by the Scottish Government on June 3, a day later.

Commenting, Scottish Conservative health spokesperson Annie Wells said: “This is a humiliating slap-down for Humza Yousaf

“Top statisticians have confirmed his child Covid claims, which left thousands of parents worried for their kids’ safety, were inaccurate.

“It’s a disgrace that the SNP Government wouldn’t just come clean and admit Humza Yousaf got this wrong. Instead, they danced around questions about his dangerous scaremongering.

“The health secretary alarmed parents, but once again, just like when he made false accusations of sectarian singing, he didn’t hold his hands up and admit the mistake.

“For once, Humza Yousaf should drop the arrogance, show some humility and finally apologise for getting this so badly wrong.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The health secretary has already expressed his regret for any alarm his remarks may have caused – and the Statistics Authority has acknowledged this was ‘a genuine mistake’ made shortly after the health secretary had taken on his new role.

"The Scottish Government responded swiftly and published the figures quoted with clear definitions and notes to help understand the data.”

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