Observations Body Politic

Sailing without a lookout: cuts to the Office for National Statistics

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f6739 (Published 13 November 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6739
  1. Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist, London
  1. nigel.hawkes1{at}btinternet.com

We stand to lose essential healthcare data

At the first whiff of cultural vandalism, armies of protest are mobilised, letters to the Times drafted, and elderly inhabitants of the House of Lords awakened to sound the End of England tocsin. Little of any significance can be changed without many voices being raised. Even the 1960s Alexander Fleming House in Southwark, south London, loathed by its inhabitants when it was the headquarters of the Department of Health, found enough friends to escape demolition in the 1990s and is now a grade II listed building.

But other changes fail the test of cultural significance. Who cares, for example, that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is being forced to plan a series of changes that amount to vandalism of the most damaging kind? It may be hard to see a statistical output as a cultural artefact, but that is a failure of perception. Every set of data is a poem to a reader tuned to its unique cadence. Statistics are the stuff of history, the lifeblood of policy, the raw material of discovery, and the tribute paid by the present to the future. Without statistics we have no …

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