THE NTA: SUCCESS OR FAILURE?
"Drug treatment officials were busy rubbishing my journalism yesterday afternoon, telling anyone who would listen that the man from the BBC had got his figures wrong. (Listen to my report on the Today programme)
I wouldn’t burden you with details of the statistical spat, except I think the episode goes to the heart of the debate over what England’s half a billion pounds a year drug treatment programme is for.
The National Treatment Agency (NTA) yesterday published its annual figures showing yet another big increase in the numbers of people who were on the drug treatment programme last year – 202,000 altogether. (Trebles all round – government target achieved in style.)
Not mentioned in the press notice, discretely lodged in a table near the bottom of the data release, was the number of people who left the treatment programme drug-free last year – 7,324.
What I did, and what so infuriated the people at the NTA, was to compare the two. The arithmetic was pretty simple. Just 3.6% of those in treatment were discharged free of illegal drugs.
They didn’t like that – not one bit. An email was sent out from the press office steering other journalists away from doing the same sum. "Just in case anyone is tempted to follow the BBC’s 3.6% figure", warned Director of Communications Jon Hibbs, "we think this is a misleading way to interpret the data: it’s like measuring a school’s GCSE success by counting the number of A grades as proportion of the total school population".
The NTA prefer to focus on the number in treatment and the number retained for 12 weeks – the government’s measures of success. There is no target for getting people off drugs.
If pressed, they will argue that the data shows that those who left drug-free represent 11% of those who were discharged from treatment.
That looks a bit better. But do you see what they’ve done? They have ignored the tens of thousands of people who are in drug treatment but were not discharged…"