New analysis reassures patients and doctors

Guest Blog by Dr Iseult Roche, Associate, 2020health

New analysis from researchers at University of Manchester have found there is no weekend death effect for NHS emergency patients and that such a view, held by some, has been “a statistical artefact”

The retrospective observational study analysed hospital admissions over a 10-month period of over 12 million A&E attendances and almost five million emergency admissions between April 2013 and February 2014. About 20% of these emergency admissions were referrals via primary care¹.

It was identified that hospitals admit less patients who are less severely ill at weekends. This skews results and inaccurately suggests that mortality rates at weekends appear greater than mid-week.

Professor Matt Sutton said: “Hospitals apply a higher severity threshold when choosing which patients to admit to hospital at weekends – patients with non-serious illnesses are not admitted, so those who are admitted at the weekend are on average sicker than during the week and more likely to die regardless of the quality of care they receive.”

Researcher Rachel Meacock said: “The so-called ‘weekend effect’ is a statistical artefact and extending services will not reduce the number of deaths. In relation to potential extended hours for senior doctors, it is actually possible that this could potentially increase the number of weekend admissions of less severely ill patients which could increase NHS costs.”

This has been welcomed by doctors alike, who have felt that the unnecessary fear of weekend care has frightened patients and doctors in some cases. Doctors and other NHS staff try their best to care for patients and carry out their role to the best of their ability, regardless of days of the week and welcome this reassurance.

The British Medical Association welcomed the research findings, with Dr Mark Porter reported as saying: “This huge and robust study confirms what doctors have been saying all along”.

¹ Higher mortality rates amongst emergency patients admitted to hospital at weekends reflect a lower probability of admission. Journal of Health Services Research and Policy 6 May 2016; doi: 10.1177/1355819616649630 [abstract]
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