Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Weekend Mortality

The BMJ paper and seven day services

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 03 March 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i1193
  1. Abi Rimmer,
  2. reporter
  1. BMJ Careers
  1. arimmer{at}

In September 2015, The BMJ published an article on the association between day of hospital admission and mortality. But the secretary of state for health had apparently used figures from the paper before its publication. Abi Rimmer explores the sequence of events

On 16 July 2015, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, made a speech in the House of Commons accusing the BMA of walking out of consultant contract negotiations.1 Hunt argued that the contract needed to be changed to ensure that more consultants worked at weekends. To support his argument for increased weekend services, he said, “Around 6000 people lose their lives every year because we do not have a proper seven day service in hospitals. You are 15% more likely to die if you are admitted on a Sunday compared to being admitted on a Wednesday.”

Where did the 6000 figure come from?

Immediately after Hunt’s speech, the source of the figures, particularly the 6000 excess deaths, was questioned. There did not, however, seem to be a clear answer. BBC journalist Jane Dreaper was told by the Department of Health that the source was a paper that would soon be published in The BMJ.2 On 16 July she tweeted, “Answer now from @DeptHealthPress—apparently it relates to analysis of 13/14 HES [Hospital Episode Statistics] data being published in BMJ soon.”

Meanwhile Laura O’Brien, a writer for fact checking charity Full Fact, was told by the health department on the same day that the figure had come from Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s medical director.3 Concerned that Hunt had “used unpublished figures from NHS England,” O’Brien emailed the UK Statistics Authority that day to complain.4

On 24 July, Ed Humpherson, UK Statistics Authority director general for regulation, wrote to Mark Svenson, head of analytical services at NHS England, summarising their earlier conversation.5 Humpherson …

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