Seven-day NHS unachievable for 20 years, expert claims

Prof Julian Bion, who is researching how services can improve at weekends, says much more money is needed.

The government’s pledge to deliver a seven-day NHS will remain unachievable for 20 years because of underfunding and chronic understaffing, a leading expert has said.

There are also fears that providing more NHS services at weekends could increase the risk of death facing patients who are in hospital during the week, because fewer doctors will be on duty then.

“I’m convinced seven-day services cannot be achieved within current funding. There are huge gaps [in medical staffing rotas in hospitals already]. I think we’re 20 years away from actually being able to achieve a seven-day service given the current challenges, but I would love to be wrong,” said Prof Julian Bion, who is leading a major NHS-funded research project into the introduction of more services at weekends.

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, has constantly cited the need to create a more fully-functioning NHS at weekends as the key reason for his long and bitter dispute with England’s 54,000 junior doctors.

Bion is an NHS consultant in intensive care medicine and chief investigator of the high-intensity specialist-led acute care and seven-day services (Hislac) project at Birmingham University. It is a five-year study into the resources needed to deliver a more fully-functioning NHS at weekends and the greater risk of patients admitted at the weekend dying within 30 days.

Evidence collected by the Hislac team shows that 52% of A&E units are already facing gaps in their consultant rotas, as are 71% of acute medical units, 65% of acute medical wards and 30% of intensive care units.

Full story at The Guardian 18 July 2016