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 116.

    Why not? After all, you don't get the weekend off when you are ill... Nobody will work 7 days a week, just do shifts so that there are adequate staff there on weekends.

    Dearly beloved was in for a minor eye operation on a Thursday. When told he'd have to stay in over the weekend, he asked what was to be done. You will be seen Monday, he was told. So I took him home & brought him back in then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    As a part half time GP working 30+ hours a week with some days lasting from 8am-8pm.
    more than 50% of newly qualified doctors are women, the rest are also likely to have families. Many other hospital staff are also parents. With school being monday to friday if we work week ends who cares for our children, or by working for the health service do we give up our right to a family life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    My wife is a senior nurse at a major London teaching Hospital and worked permanent night duty rotas for the last 20 Years until last year when she was deployed onto days following reorganisation .

    She was One of Only 2 senior nurses so employed Now there are none .There are over 100 members of staff on or above Her pay grade working Monday to Friday 9-5 .

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    And why stop with hospitals - why not have a shift system for GP surgeries so that people can get to see their own highly paid doctors 7 days a week - instead of the hopeless system that currently operates in which people have to call out a stranger who then has to travel miles to get to a patient for whom they have no notes and can only tell the patient to "go to their GP on Monday".

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    What nonsense to say more staff will be required. As you'll be seeing less people during the week it will make little to no difference, any extra hours would be taken up via overtime pay which is far far cheaper than hiring more staff anyway. The problem is the NHS is one of the last sections of the public sector (and police) who refuse to enter the 21st century. GPs should work 24/7 too.


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