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A report published in December 2013 demonstrated that standards of care in NHS Hospitals are lower over weekend periods as compared to weekday care.
It has long been a common complaint of our clients that the standards of care received over weekend periods fall long short of what they expected to receive, the most common complaint being the unavailability of senior medical staff. The report prompts the question of whether the system should be reformed and, if so, whether the NHS can even afford it?
The report was provided by the firm Dr Foster, who undertook a review of the standards and views relating to NHS weekend care. The statistics demonstrated a 24% increase in death rates for patients who had surgery on a Friday, requiring subsequent weekend care and review. In addition, overall, patients who are admitted to hospital have a 20% higher chance of dying over a weekend than during weekdays.
The study also incorporated a poll of Doctors undertaken by doctors.net.uk, which showed a surprising confirmation of the statistics in that of the 5,500 doctors interviewed 68% of them agreed that care was poorer over weekends.
The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who is fully aware that this has been an on going issue for NHS services, stated: “I want to see the NHS giving the same high-quality of care seven days a week, and it is good to hear that things are improving. But it is completely unacceptable that some patients are still suffering simply because it is the weekend.”
Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s medical director, told the Andrew Marr show: “Society has moved on and people expect more and more from services at the weekend. There is the issue about are we running our industry effectively?” Sir Bruce is seeking radical reform to the way NHS services are run by seeking a full 7 day per week service which will involve consultants working at weekends. He went on to tell the Sunday Times that his reform “would undo more than 50 years of accumulated custom and practice which have failed to put the interests of patients first.”
The NHS does not presently appear to be in the position to offer 7 day care to its patients as the funding is simply not available to do so. It is very difficult to see how the government hope to implement good quality (non emergency) care over weekends, without providing additional funds to have senior medical staff present, rather than only being “on-call”. The NHS budget simply cannot be made to stretch over 7 days without reducing the quality of care overall and therefore costs will need to be found from elsewhere, such as reducing admission times and avoiding ‘bed blocking’. Unfortunately patients do not choose when they become critically ill and it simply isn’t appropriate to directly compare NHS care to commercial consumer services.
The clinical negligence team has handled many medical negligence claims, particularly following an inquest, where loved ones have died due to a lack of proper care over the weekend period. The NHS is under huge strain and demand but patients must surely be provided with full and proper care over weekend periods.