In October 2013, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, National Medical Director of NHS England, made a high-profile pledge to offer NHS services seven days a week. In December 2015, the Government delivered a mandate to NHS England to roll out seven-day services by 2020.
Underpinning this move to extend NHS services is research linking poorer outcomes for patients with the current uneven service provision at weekends. Studies show that patients are 11% more likely to die if they are admitted to hospital on a Saturday and 16% on a Sunday.
However, there are widespread fears amongst doctors that these plans for a seven-day service are not only a waste of vital resources but could also prove a threat to patient safety. The British Medical Association (BMA) has publicly attacked the move, claiming it to be “wholly unrealistic” and that the chronic shortage of medical staff to respond to increased demand for services means there is a “real risk that patient safety could be compromised”.
An increasing number of vacant posts advertised to meet the inevitable rise in demand are simply not being filled. Professor Jane Dacre, President of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), said in her recent speech to the RCP annual conference that 40% of consultant posts advertised last year went unfilled - this was almost always due to a lack of candidates. One in five consultants reports gaps in their junior doctor rotas.
But the problem of lack of doctors is wider than the issues raised by the Government's seven-day NHS services project. In January we highlighted the problem of GP surgeries refusing to accept new patients. Professor Carrie MacEwen, President of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, has now warned that the NHS is struggling to meet an increasing demand for ophthalmologists.
This is due to a "perfect storm" caused by increased demand for treatments for chronic eye conditions in an ageing population. These treatments require close monitoring and care with regular follow-up appointments which, inevitably, put a greater strain on NHS resources.
Camilla Wonnacott, associate in the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, said: “It is vital that sufficient resources are available to care for patients across the NHS. We regularly deal with claimants who have suffered injury as a result of exhausted and stressed medical professionals.”