Studies suggesting that more NHS patients die from surgery taking place at weekends have been put into question by the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.

The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt claimed last summer that the ‘weekend effect’ was responsible for around 6,000 deaths per year. This figure was used as a central argument for the changes to junior doctors’ contracts, prompting the dispute between the government and the British Medical Association, which is still ongoing.

The figure of 6,000 deaths per year was taken from a study by England’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Bruce Keogh, originally published by the British Medical Journal. The journal did not claim that the extra deaths were related to staff shortages. The new research focussed on care for patients suffering from strokes. It suggests that because fewer low-risk operations were performed at weekends, no conclusions can be drawn from a comparison between weekends and weekdays.

Researchers also found that about a third of patients who were admitted for strokes were miscoded. Many of them were admitted for other, low-risk procedures that were carried out Monday to Friday. They suggest that this trend of poor NHS record-keeping is likely to have affected mortality rates in other areas of healthcare.

“The report was exploited by the government, who grossly misused this data”

Alex Mafi

The research was led by Peter Rothwell, Head of the Centre for the Prevention of Stroke and Dementia and Professor of Clinical Neurology at the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences. In a statement he said, “There is increasing research evidence that strongly suggests that the so-called ‘weekend effect’ is certainly overestimated by the government and could quite possibly be completely artefactual due to flaws in the data used in previous studies. Much more reliable evidence is required before we spend very considerable sums of money to restructure weekend health services.”

Responding to the research, Alex Mafi, President of Oxford MedSoc, told Cherwell, “Even before this report, evidence for the ‘weekend effect’ was sketchy. It [the report] was exploited by the government, who grossly misused this data to associate correlations with doctor working hours and death rates to imply a strong correlation between the two.

“It’s encouraging to see these studies emerge from our university that provide solid evidence of the government’s misinformation and stealth tactics to mislead the public about the need for these contracts.”

The research has increased suspicions that the ‘Seven Day NHS’ is part of a wider attempt to privatise the health service. Balliol medical student Ellouise Bishop told Cherwell, “Even though it’s become so confusing with all these different stats and statements thrown at us about why the contract has to be the way it is, it’s actually a really simple issue: they’re trying to get junior doctors to work the same crazy hours for less money. It’s a move towards privatisation, which goes against everything the NHS stands for.”

 

Downing Street has reiterated that data from previous studies is still valid and that the consensus remains that there is a statistically observable ‘weekend effect’. The contract imposed on junior doctors is due to come into force in August, despite continued resistance from the BMA. Climbing up the walls before we spend very considerable sums of money to restructure Responding to the research, Alex Mafi, President of Oxford MedSoc, imply a strong correlation between “It’s encouraging to see these studies emerge from our university that provide solid evidence of the misinformation and stealth tactics to mislead the public about the need for these The research has increased suspicions that the ‘Seven Day NHS’ is part of a wider attempt to privatise the health service. to get junior doctors to work the same crazy hours for less money. It’s a move towards privatisation, which goes against everything the NHS stands for.” Downing Street has reiterated that data from previous studies is still valid and that the consensus remains that there is a statistically observable ‘weekend effect’. The contract imposed on junior doctors is due to come into force in August, despite continued resistance from the BMA.