A leaked report has indicated that the plans of Jeremy Hunt to introduce a seven-day culture to the NHS may be completely misguided.
The report in question suggests that it is impossible to prove that more staffing at weekends will reduce the number of patients that die.
There have been question marks about the ability of the government to implement this supposed scheme, with many healthcare professionals believing that the culture of the NHS is really one of a seven-day nature already.
Indeed, the report also admits it will be “challenging” to meet the government’s promise to recruit 5,000 more GPs by 2020, a Conservative pledge during the election campaign, and that 11,000 new staff will be needed to run a seven-day service in hospitals.
Considering the reduction in expenditure that the Conservative party has instigated in the NHS, with £22 billion worth of efficiency savings targeted, it would seem to be impossible to recruit this number of staff to key positions.
Additionally, the Tories are also facing ongoing rows with junior doctors and nurses over funding and pay issues.
The increased numbers of deaths among patients admitted at weekends has been the cornerstone for Hunt’s argument in favour of a seven-day health service.
Yet an internal Department of Health draft report indicates that it is impossible for the department to “evidence the mechanism by which increased consultant presence and diagnostic tests at weekends will translate into lower mortality and reduced length of stay”.
This will only strengthen the opinion of those who have been critical of Hunt’s plans, which have been strongly challenge in terms of ethos, but now also seem to be completely impractical and even fundamentally flawed.
Hunt threatened last July to impose a new contract on consultants to help bring about the seven-day NHS, if they did not resume negotiations.
Yet disputes have not found a resolution in the process, with the general public seeming to support the position of junior doctors increasingly strongly.
The Conservative party had previously made it a major manifesto pledge to create what it described as a truly seven-day NHS by the end of this decade.
But these plans would now seem to be increasingly tenuous.
Dr Mark Porter, the British Medical Association’s chair of council, was scathing in his assessment of the leaked report.
“This leaked document makes clear that more seven-day services will require not only thousands of extra doctors, nurses and support staff but an additional investment in both the NHS and community care. Its findings also show no proven link between weekend mortality rates and consultant presence, and suggests that other investment is more necessary.”
A Department of Health spokesperson naturally defended the position of the government.
“There is clear, independent clinical evidence of variation in the quality of care across the week and, working together with the NHS, we are determined to tackle this problem. Making sure the right staff and support is available for all patients seven days a week is a key part of our approach.”