Are Jeremy Hunt’s 6,000 weekend deaths number accurate?

21st July 2015 / United Kingdom
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There has been considerable controversy and speculation caused by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s assertion that 6,000 people die every year because hospitals don’t provide “a proper 7-day service. He plans to put the hospital doctors on 7-day contracts by 2020 and if they don’t agree, he’ll force them.

This has caused an angry response from doctors and health workers across the NHS.

The 6,000 number got attention, appearing on the front pages of a number of newspapers as well as TV and radio news bulletins throughout the day. However, the mainstream press are unable to quote its source because it is unpublished and can’t be verified.

From FullFactWhen we asked the Department of Health they told us it came from Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director at NHS England. BBC Health Correspondent Jane Dreaper says the department has given her more details—the number comes from analysis of Hospital Episode Statistics from 2013/14, which is apparently due to be published in the British Medical Journal “soon”.

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It’s inappropriate for a Minister to cite statistics which can’t be interrogated by members of the public—the Code of Practice for Official Statistics is clear on this.

Around 500,000 people die each year in England and Wales – thats 1,370 each day and therefore 2,739 each weekend. Taking this number further, 142,465 would be expected to die at the weekends. Jeremy Hunt is asserting an extra 6,000 die or an additional 4.2% of expected deaths – blaming the lack of doctors available for this figure.

However, Jeremy Hunts figure only includes all people who were admitted in hospitals at the weekend but who subsequently died thereafter. Typically, these very unwell patients die within 26 days which could be any day of the week and there is no evidence to suggest they all died, or any of them died at the weekends.

It’s also important to know that more people die on weekdays than weekends. This figure alone contradicts Jeremy Hunts assertion as it actually means more people die when all doctors are working. This alone would suggest doctors are far more careful at weekends, probably because they need all NHS services available to them to make life-changing decisions. They don’t act alone is such circumstances.

In addition, doctors are much more likely to discharge patients who pose no threat of being so unwell as to die at the weekend – leaving the most unwell of patients where there is statistically a greater chance of them dying at the weekend. It is the same as saying more people die of heart attacks when they are in a specialist heart attack ward – they would because there are more very high risk patients there compared to normal hospital wards that don’t specialise in heart attacks.

Lastly, even if it was true that all these people died at weekends because doctors were all playing golf, Jeremy Hunt makes no reference to the enormous support that doctors need in the first place from a huge range of specialists to help them make these extremely difficult decisions. After a serious car accident, for instance, a consultant doctor might require the expertise of on-call radiographers but all are supported by other teams, say, haematology – the list is endless.

Junior doctors and consultant doctors are rightly angered by Jeremy Hunts comments that has sparked an enormous reaction on social media, particularly #iminworkjeremy 

In the meantime change.org has over 90,000 signatures calling for Jeremy Hunt’s resignation, all signed with 24 hours of the petition. At 100,000 this is likely to turn on David Cameron as it could spur a question in parliament.

Clive Peedell ‏@cpeedell Jul 19
The #ImInWorkJeremy hashtag not only shames Jeremy Hunt, it shames the journalists who help to spew out his unevidenced mendacious attacks

Robert Salaman ‏@robert_salaman Jul 19
Referred 00:30 seen 01:00 major bypass surgery 09:00 by same consultant. #ImInWorkJeremy

Comments made by Jeremy Hunt and the 6,000 deaths is a typical misinformation/disinformation story designed to be vague and propagated to continue “reforming” the NHS for whatever reasons the conservative party deems necessary and is clearly back-firing.

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