Urgent action needed over weekend doctor numbers

With the weekend coming up Health Direct again warns- hospitals in the UK have a fraction of the number of doctors on site at weekends as they do during the week.

Urgent action needed over weekend doctor numbersOn average, doctor staffing levels at weekends were only 16% of those during the week. The figures also showed a difference in terms of the grades of doctors on duty.

Hospitals in England had an average of 86 consultants on a Wednesday, compared to just over eight in the afternoon at the weekend.

One medium-sized hospital, St Marys on the Isle of Wight, had 63 consultants in the building during the week, but none on a weekend afternoon.

The NHS published its last figures about patient mortality in 2011.

The survey of 14 million admissions showed that a patient is 11% more likely to die if admitted on a Saturday and 16% more likely to die if admitted on a Sunday than during the week.

Overall, patients stay longer in hospital when they are admitted at weekends.

They wait longer for a diagnosis and part of the reason for that is that there are not the senior doctors around in the departments that do the blood tests, X-rays and scans.

Prof Sir Bruce Keogh has set out a 10-point plan to achieve 24-hour, seven day a week staffing in hospitals. He wants to see it in place by 2017.

“It’s a bold plan because the NHS, like other parts of society, has not functioned the same at the weekend as it has in the week – but we need to do it with urgency.  The rest of society has moved on, all other service industries are starting to address how they provide more routine services at the weekend and it’s time we did so in health”.

But Sir Richard Thompson of the Royal College of Physicians thinks it will take longer.

“I think we’re heading in the right direction but I think the plan is optimistic. Without getting a large extra number of staff of all grades and all types I cannot see how we can get a full equal service on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday”.
‘Bit of a rest’

According to the research the Royal Liverpool Hospital has 7% of the level of staffing for doctors at the weekend compared to a Wednesday afternoon.

Another sticking point for Dr Williams is the attitude of staff:

“There may be some reluctance. It becomes more difficult when you tell people they will be on call 24/7 on site. That’s a big step.”

“Some of our specialties have already done it, but if I’m going out to consultants in their late 40s and 50s and saying, ‘I know you’ve been on your contract for 15 years, but I would now like you to be up all night on a Saturday or Sunday’, that’s a big ask”.

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