NHS group to consider weekend services

Surgeons performing an operation The group will consider whether services, such as routine surgery and scans, can be provided seven days a week

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A group is to be set up to examine why the NHS in England cannot provide some routine services at weekends - like day surgery - the BBC understands.

The NHS Commissioning Board is due to announce the move on Tuesday, when it publishes its planning guidance for the NHS for the first time.

The group will include patient representatives, health providers and people from outside the health service.

The government said it "fully supported" a seven-day service.

The health minister, Lord Howe, said patients needed the NHS "every day".

"Offering easier access to hospital consultants, GPs and routine hospital services seven days a week will reduce delays and ensure that patients get seen and treated by experienced healthcare professionals," he said.

The British Medical association said it was "open to discussion" about the changes.

The setting up of the group follows research that suggests patients are more likely to die if they are admitted to hospital over the weekend.

Start Quote

This will be a big cultural change, but our focus should be on convenience and compassion for those seeking our help.”

End Quote Sir Bruce Keogh NHS Commissioning Board

Board medical director Sir Bruce Keogh told the BBC the new group would look at "the barriers that stop us heading in the direction of a seven-day service."

'Moral case'

He said the new group would "invariably have to look at terms and conditions [of hospital staff] and see what incentives there might be". But he stressed that "this is not about forcing people".

"I am just trying to build a practical, moral and compassionate case on behalf of patients.

"You have got to get people to believe in the moral case," he said.

Sir Bruce added: "It is time for the NHS to offer more routine services at the weekend, in addition to emergency services. This will be a big cultural change, but our focus should be on convenience and compassion for those seeking our help."

He also said the focus of the new NHS Commissioning Board - which was set up under the government's re-organisation of the health service - is to be patient focused, and that that was why he was setting up the group.

Our political reporter, Susana Mendonca, says Sir Bruce has long been a supporter of the idea that patients would be better served if routine services - like scans - were available at weekends.

Research suggests that patients are more likely to die in hospital if they are admitted at the weekend.

Earlier this year, research, carried out at University College London and the universities of Birmingham and East Anglia, was published showing patients in England were 16% more likely to die if they were admitted on a Sunday, rather than mid-week.

Staffing - and in particular the presence, or absence, of senior doctors - has been highlighted as a key factor.

The Department of Health said some hospitals were already thinking about treating patients at weekends for non-urgent operations and procedures.

For example, in Birmingham and Torbay, hospitals have had scanners open to provide tests over the weekend, as well as operations being carried out.

They also have more more senior staff and consultants around at weekends.

Responding to Sir Bruce's comment, the British Medical Association - which represents doctors - said it was "open to discussions on ways of further improving the service patients receive at evenings and weekends".

"Flexibility will be key - solutions that work for one specialty may not work for others," a spokesman said.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 645.

    The government isn't willing to pay for a proper service 5 days a week, how are we supposed to provide the service on a non-emergency basis 7 days a week?

    How are they going to do it? Is this why the government refused to set national nursing staffing levels?

    A seven day service can happen, but it costs money that is no longer available, as it is all tied up in debt and private interests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 644.

    46 Minutes ago
    Well, call me stupid, but ain't health a 24/7 affair?..
    Not for elective/routine/out patient type procedures

  • rate this

    Comment number 643.

    If GPs were open at weekends (again after sufficient time to prepare for and staff the change) urgent care centres would not need to be staffed at weekends by locum GPs robbing the NHS. It would also discourage people from going into the incredibly demanding job of GP due to "lifestyle choice" as opposed to having a passion for the specialty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 642.

    614.Ellis Birt
    30 Minutes ago
    Just common sense!
    Expensive facilities lie idle for 2/7 of the week. Many non-Christian doctors are forced to take Saturday and Sunday as their days off and work their religion's 'special' days.
    With the Staff/Resources, Workforce Management, Workload balancing 24/7/365 would be possible.
    However there are no free lunches, there are "additional" costs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 641.

    @darcydog and some others bashing medical mums-when this was brought up at work I welcomed the idea of working extra weekends as it would mean time with kids during the week and hopefully safer weekend staffing. My child free colleagues were less keen due to social plans. Yes, doctors a generation ago worked more hours - they complained so much and killed so many patients the rules were changed

  • rate this

    Comment number 640.

    I'm a junior doctor - hospital weekend work is dangerously understaffed, and involves 13 hour shifts (which invariably becomes 15) usually with no time to eat, drink or pee. If we are to provide full services 7 days a week this needs to be properly planned and financed in advance of the change, to protect the health of both the patients and staff involved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 639.

    An aweful lot of poorly informed people here who feel they have the right to comment on NHS staff working hours. Just to clarify:
    Ill people get the treatment they need 24h/day,365day/year thanks to the tireless work of nurses/drs/physios/theatre staff/radiologists who stay late on a daily basis for no renumiration, because unlike an office work,it's unethical to leave it for tomorrow/someone else

  • rate this

    Comment number 638.

    Bottom line = staff, facilities & funds. If you increase the workload, you have to increase all of those. Someone has to pay for it, the Gov. is busy cutting costs, so who is left to stump up extra cash. Yes, you've heard it before, we privatise or tax - you decide. Austerity " we're all in in together ", some up to their ankles, rest up to their necks. I have no politics, hate them all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 637.

    Continued from before.
    Yes , we do need senior doctors to make decisions. However, the juniors are the ones who carry out those decisions (perform procedures, prescribe drugs, discharge patients home, order investigations, act on results, review unwell patients on the ward). So , before you can ask consultants to increase non-emergency services on weekends, try improving support staff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 636.

    People seem to confuse public servants with public slaves.
    People are paid to do a job, they're doing it. You have not bought the right to their body and soul to order around as you see the world, to use at any time of day and night regardless of their wishes and without compensation.
    There's a lot of people in glass houses throwing stones here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 635.

    Regarding doctors' payment....Well if you think we get paid too much for our work, effort, stressful life and life-changing decision-making, then why don't you all encourage your children to go and study medicine, rather than relying on overseas doctors & then complain about immigration.

  • Comment number 634.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 633.

    It sure sounds like a reasonable suggestion, but the medical profession is already a highly stressful career, I should hope this wouldn't make it any more stressful or we could see a rise in clinical mortality rates due to mistakes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 632.

    Well, call me stupid, but ain't health a 24/7 affair?..

  • rate this

    Comment number 631.

    I am a junior doctor. Speaking from experience, most hospitals run on skeletal staffing. For example, a normal 30 bedded ward would probably have 2-3 junior doctors (i.e. 1 doctor to 10 -15 patients) during 9-5 weekdays. Come weekends / Bank Holidays, that number is greatly reduced to 1 junior doctor covering 3-4 wards (i.e. 1 doctor to 90-120 patients).

  • rate this

    Comment number 630.

    Many people commenting here obviously have no clue about hospitals.
    In all acute NHS hospitals, emergency work is 24/7 in all specialties.
    In some big hospitals, elective work still happens over the weekend but to a lesser extent.
    If you really want the weekend to be treated exactly as the rest of the week, that's fine, but you need to provide the following:
    1- Staff 2- Money 3- Beds

  • rate this

    Comment number 629.

    Some comments are actually suggesting 24/7 outpatient appointments. Seriously, how many of you would want to have your hearing aid fitted at 3.30 on a Sunday morning? Most patients won't come to an appointment before 10am because their bus pass can't be used until 9am & won't have an appointment after 3pm in the winter because they don't want to travel home in the dark.

  • rate this

    Comment number 628.

    Sploop, some healthcare works do work 24/7. SOME! and in there lies the problem. Specialists and GPs generally don't and I think they should. Can you imagine going to the police on a Sat night and being told that you'd have to come back on Monday? And what's this 'bloody working hard' comment? I'm sure that healthcare workers do work very hard, but guess what. So do most of us!

  • rate this

    Comment number 627.

    105 Albatross. Your comments sum up everything wrong with GPs. GPs are not a special case. Many of us have families and have the difficult task of juggling work/home life and on a lot less pay. If you can't hack it...leave.

  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    Scotsman, healthcare workers DO work 24/7. Go to your nearest hospital right now and see how bloody hard they are working. I'm not saying that having more people working weekends is a bad idea, just that this idea of doctors working 9 till 5 is a joke.


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