Study piles further pressure on Hunt’s plans for junior doctors

Ian Johnston 6 May 2016

Research from Manchester University has revealed that fewer people die in hospitals at the weekend. The study flies in the face of Jeremy Hunt’s persistent claims that hospital mortality rates rise on Saturday and Sunday. The death rate does go up at the weekend, but the study found that this rise is only due to the fact that 7% fewer patients are admitted. Patients admitted at the weekend are more ill than those admitted during the week, and the resultant death rate is skewed.

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Professor Matt Sutton, who led the research looking at deaths in hospital within 30 days of admission, said there was no issue with weekend care. Extending services at weekends is 'not going to save lives' and the real issue is caused by daily admission rates:  

'This policy of extending services at weekends will lead to more people being admitted – and that will increase pressure on the NHS – but it is unlikely to save lives. Everybody has assumed that once you have been admitted, you get poorer quality care at the weekend (leading to a higher death rate). I think our study shows it's unlikely to be that. What is important is what your chances of being admitted are.’

Jeremy Hunt’s calls for a 24 hour NHS have largely been driven by the apparent rise in fatalities at the weekend. This has led to intense opposition, most notably from student doctors. Strikes across the country have led to the suspension of emergency services. On Wednesday, government ministers and junior doctors agreed to return to talks over the new junior doctors’ contract. Hunt stated that the government was ready to compromise. David Cameron stressed the importance that the renewed talks focus on the ‘10% of issues in the contract that had not been agreed, particularly Saturday working.’

A Cambridge medical student, who didn’t wished to be named, stated that medical professionals are “deeply concerned about the long term implications the new contracts will have for doctors, patients and the NHS.”

“Doctors are forced to work long punishing hours so their ability to make decisions, which seriously affect patients’ lives, is impaired. I spoke to one junior doctor who had worked five 12-hour shifts consecutively. That’s not rare. Yes, the contracts will lead to reduced pay. But, more importantly, they will also increase the hours worked. Things will only become worse and patient care will suffer.’

The study confirms that patients attending A&E at the weekend are no more likely to die than patients attending A&E during the week. It places further pressure on Hunt to reconsider his plans for the NHS.