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23.08.16

Outrage as DH’s ‘unrealistic’ seven-day NHS risk report leaked

The government’s flagship plans to make NHS services fully available at the weekend have been called unworkable after the government’s own papers revealed it is concerned about a range of risks.

Risk management documents, leaked to The Guardian and Channel 4 News, list 13 risks to the seven-day NHS plans, with ‘workforce overload’ rated as the biggest risk.

Other factors given the ‘red’ rating for the seriousness of the threat they pose include the UK’s exit from the European Union, a lack of robust plans to deliver the reforms and a risk of ‘scope creep’.

Dr Mark Porter, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA), said: “The BMA has been quite clear that patients should receive the same high standard of care seven days a week, but we have also repeatedly raised concerns over the past year about the lack of detail and absence of any plan on how the government intends to deliver this.

“To see in black and white that the government has not only ignored these concerns – and those of other leading healthcare organisations – but has also disregarded its own risk assessment’s warnings about the lack of staffing and funding needed to deliver further seven-day services, is both alarming and incredibly disappointing.”

The BMA junior doctors’ committee led a series of strikes in protest at plans to extend junior doctors’ working hours in order to deliver seven-day services, and more may be forthcoming after the organisation rejected the latest junior doctors’ contract.

In the papers, Department of Health officials also warn that the seven-day NHS may not “result in the desired change” of reducing weekend death rates even if it is successfully introduced.

They point out that there has still been no overall equality impact of the proposals, which is given an ‘amber’ safety warning because it could leave them open to criticism.

The junior doctors’ contract was criticised for discriminating against female doctors with children and disabled doctors.

Professor Jane Dacre, president of the Royal College of Physicians, also criticised the proposals, telling Channel 4 News: “At the moment we are struggling to deliver care over five days, so to extend that to seven days and expect doctors to be able to provide high quality of care is not realistic.

“Doctors are working hard and they want to do the best they can for patients, but it is difficult to deliver the quality of care needed seven days a week without extra people to deliver it.”

Diane Abbott, the shadow health secretary, accused the government of “undermining the NHS with plans it knew to be unworkable”.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Over the past six years eight independent studies have set out the evidence for a ‘weekend effect’ – unacceptable variation in care across the week.

“This government is the first to tackle this, with a commitment to a safer, seven-day NHS for patients and £10bn to fund the NHS’s own plan for the future, alongside thousands of extra doctors and nurses on our wards.”

Recent research from the University of Manchester’s Centre for Health Economics suggested that death rates may actually be lower at weekends.

(Image c. Dominic Lipinski from PA Wire and Press Association Images)

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