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The NHS: national religion or national football?

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 25 February 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i1023
  1. David Barer,
  2. consultant physician
  1. Sunderland Royal Hospital, Sunderland SR4 7TP
  1. david.barer{at}

Just as with our national game, everyone is an expert

In English Premier League football, many more goals are scored from the attacker’s right side than the left.1 Clearly, defenders should be told to spend more time on that side of the pitch. What could possibly go wrong?

A minister with a challenging new brief such as healthcare naturally looks for a quick goal, ideally one that seems to “save lives.” What better than the long rumoured “weekend effect” in hospital deaths?

By coincidence, some senior medical academics and directors, including the clinical director of the independent NHS England, have studied nearly 16 million admissions and 290 000 deaths, comparing weekend and weekday mortality rates.2 They found fewer deaths among patients admitted on Saturdays or Sundays than on average weekdays, but 60% fewer admissions at weekends and a much higher proportion of emergencies. …

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