Fewer people die in hospital at weekends, study finds

Fewer people – not more – die in hospital at weekends than during the week, according to a major study which contradicts evidence cited by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to justify the imposition of new contracts on junior doctors.

Hunt has repeatedly stated that junior doctors must routinely work at weekends because the higher death rate is linked to lower staffing levels. When the Department of Health and the junior doctors’ leaders failed to agree on weekend working, Hunt announced he would impose a new contract.

But a team from Manchester University has found an apparently simple answer to the question of why the death rate rises at the weekend among patients admitted to hospital as an emergency. Their analysis looks at the numbers of people arriving in accident and emergency (A&E) as well as the numbers admitted to a bed. It finds that there is indeed a “weekend effect”, because fewer people are admitted and they are the sickest patients, leading to a higher death rate than in the week.

In terms of actual numbers, the deaths are fewer. Prof Matt Sutton led the research, which looked at deaths in hospital within 30 days of admission.

Full story in The Guardian 9 May 2016