Weekend NHS death rates - what we need to know

2 surgeons

The big NHS headline story this week concerned the stark statistic that up to 6,000 people lose their lives every year because of a lack of a “proper” seven-day hospital service

Weekends it seems are not the best time to be heading to hospital. If the above statistic is even partially correct then it paints a shameful picture of how our healthcare services operate. The British Medical Association (BMA) last week launched a campaign to fight back against the governments push for an enhanced 7 day service. Arguing that doctors already work long hours and are at risk of burn out, the BMA are ready to pick a fight.

But what is the background to this sorry saga..? Why are patients more at risk on a Friday night than they would be on a Wednesday..? How come we do not have a consistent 7 day service that puts patients fiirst..?

In an article in the Independent newspaper this week the following was discussed "It transpires that there is far more to this debate than meets the eye. The BMA and NHS have been negotiating the new consultant and junior doctor contracts for two years. Talks collapsed in October when the BMA withdrew over patient safety and doctors’ welfare concerns. One of the main sticking points is the Government’s wish to remove a clause in the last contract negotiated in 2003, which allows senior doctors to opt out of doing non-emergency work at the weekends"

The public are probably not aware that non-emergency weekend opt out clause actually exists. However you have to balance this against a recent study which revealed that less than one per cent of consultants actually use a contract loophole to “opt-out” of weekend work. This would be very welcome were it not for the fact that some doctors are maximising earnings when they work weekends. Hospitals are allowing consultants to negotiate local pay rates for non-emergency weekend work that are very often excessive and way beyond the standard fee scale.

The fact is that we really do not know enough about the complexities of the NHS contract system for consultants, whether they attend or call in during procedures and whether in fact they work only a few weekends a year rather than consistently. The stats are easy to manipulate so it is very hard to find reliable data.

All we know is that more patients die at the weekend because of a lack of medical skill, care and diagnostics. This undoubdtedly will lead to more medical compensation cases against hospitals that fail their patients.

How do you explain to the patients and their families that by being admitted to a hospital on a Friday night you have a greater chance of dying than you would on a Wednesday night? We dont choose the day we go under the surgeons knife ... when it comes to non-emergency care, the NHS does. Patients deserve the same quality of care every day of the week.

Surely you have to start with that objective..?