STATISTICS are both a blessing and a curse. They can measure performance but do they give the full picture?

The figures released yesterday by the NHS show the trust running Colchester Hospital is failing to meet the Government set target for patients needing cancer treatment.

We know the quicker cancer is diagnosed and treatment started, the better the chance of survival.

As such, any delay is unacceptable, as acknowledged by its chief executive.

The hospital trust has also failed to hit the targets for waiting times for accident and emergency and for planned operations although, to be fair, so did most of the hospitals across the country.

In fact, Colchester’s hospital trust fared better than most which is no mean achievement especially considering its troubles over recent years.

Figures are important evidence in assessing how any organisation is performing and the public has a right to know how something as vital as their hospital is faring.

But to quote former Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Statistics offer transparency but little insight.

While they can measure facts such as waiting times, they cannot tell us anything about patient experience, whether a patient was treated with respect or dignity or with compassion.

These elements might not be life-saving but they are important nevertheless and should not be overlooked in searching for the full picture.