NHS group to consider weekend services
- 16 December 2012
- From the section Health
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.
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."
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.