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Observations Observations

Is the UK government right that seven day working in hospitals would save 6000 lives a year?

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 05 September 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4723
  1. Martin McKee, professor, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  1. martin.mckee{at}

The claim turned out to come from a single study that shows nothing so simple

On 16 July 2015, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt used BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to warn the British public that “we have about 6000 avoidable deaths every year in the NHS” and that “lack of senior consultant cover at weekends is one of the critical points.”1

But it subsequently emerged that only one of more than 4000 consultants has opted out of weekend working.2 And we do not know whether excess mortality is a consequence of lower quality of care or of some difference in case mix comparing weekend with weekday admissions. The evidence underpinning Hunt’s claim has received too little attention.

One reason for the lack of scrutiny was that the Department of Health did not disclose the evidence. The BBC reported, “The 6000 figure . . . that was used by the government was from research that has yet to be published.”3

Hunt did refer to a paper published in 2012,4 but only as background, perhaps reflecting how that study painted a much more complex picture than the one being portrayed. Consequently, it was a surprise when, on 13 August 2015, in response to freedom of information requests I made, the department …

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