The claim of Jeremy Hunt that higher numbers of patients die at NHS hospitals at the weekend has been challenged by new research which suggests that the central assumption is based on flawed data.
Hunt had previously cited a study by England’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Bruce Keogh.
But researchers from Oxford University questioned the information utilised in the original study, and suggest that these results may ultimately be flawed and misleading.
The academics found more than a third of patients recorded as being admitted for a stroke were actually receiving hospital treatment for other medical conditions.
In addition, scientists at Oxford University found that this trend was also commonplace across other emergency admissions and not merely in relation to stroke data.
Peter Rothwell, the lead author of the report and professor of neurology at Oxford University, suggested that the original study was rather shoddy and should not be cited as reasonable evidence to support the supposed seven-day NHS culture.
“There’s a wealth of poor-quality evidence based on hospital administrative data. If you look at those studies that have actually done the due diligence and looked at real data – gold standard data – there’s very little evidence indeed of a weekend effect. It really is an excellent example of how poor quality data, badly interpreted, can lead to the wrong answer.”
Rothwell indicated his belief that government ministers had decided on the new policy in good faith, but that there had been a fundamental failings from advisors.
Ultimately, Rothwell was rather scathing in his assessment of the current situation.
“Looking at where we are now, you could only describe it as a shambles. We need to step back and work out to begin with is there a problem here that needs solving. The high-quality data suggests there’s no problem to be solved.”
The publication of the study comes as doctors’ leaders and the government return to the negotiating table in an effort to break the deadlock over the controversial contract for junior medics.
Hunt has granted a five-day pause in the imposition of the new contract to enable these negotiations to take place with the conciliation service Acas.
Dr Johann Malawana, chairman of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, said he hoped “real progress can now be made to ending this dispute”.
Responding to these comments, the Department of Health indicated in a statement that it was hopeful that some form of agreement could be brokered ahead of more potential industrial action.
“We look forward to the talks starting tomorrow, which will be held under the auspices of Acas – and the Secretary of State will suspend the introduction of the new contract for a five-day period to facilitate this. We are very pleased that Sir David Dalton, a highly respected independent NHS leader, will be returning to lead the Government’s negotiating team on the small number of outstanding issues that separated both parties in February.”