Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced he intends to impose a 7 day working rule for doctors, explaining that having a “Monday to Friday” culture has had tragic consequences for patients. Mr Hunt stated that as a result of this culture, 6,000 people die on weekends each year unnecessarily. The British Medical Association (BMA) is also supportive of the idea of doctors working on weekends but considers Mr Hunt’s view too simplistic. He has set a September deadline to reach an agreement with the BMA.
Concerningly, death rates were higher for weekend admissions. For instance, compared with admission on a Wednesday death rates were 11% higher for Saturdays and 16% higher for Sundays. Whilst it is not clear to what extent this can be blamed on lack of experienced staff, these are worrying statistics. Another key factor is that more people will be admitted at weekends with serious illnesses due to the lack of services in the community for those with terminal conditions.
Currently, senior doctors can opt out of working weekends as long as they are on call. Mr Hunt said: “The problem dates back to 2003 when the then government gave consultants the right to opt out of working at weekends – that’s a right that nurses don’t have, midwives don’t have, paramedics, ambulance drivers and so on don’t have and that has created a Monday to Friday culture in many parts of the NHS with tragic consequences for patients.”
Mr Hunt is intending to impose new contracts on newly-appointed consultants, by not giving them the option of opting out of work on weekends. Mr Hunt is of the opinion that this approach will gradually increase the number of senior doctors on call, to ensure the standard of care provided at weekends matches that given Monday to Friday.
MDS Solicitors are very keen to see any changes in the NHS that will improve patient care. However, it will be interesting to see how these proposals are to be funded and the impact they will have on morale among doctors.