Babies born at the weekend are more likely to die within seven days than those born on weekdays, according to a study published last week in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

This research adds further fuel to the continuing row over the alleged “weekend effect” (see our previous blogs on this topic, "The ‘Weekend Effect’ – How to avoid dying in hospital" and "'Dying for the weekend' – differences in quality of stroke treatment for patients admitted at the weekend"), which ignited following the publication of a study in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine suggesting that an extra 11,000 people died each year following admission to hospital on a weekend as opposed to a weekday.

According to the most recent study from researchers at Imperial College London, there are 770 more baby deaths every year, and 470 more infections among new mothers, than would be expected if NHS performance were consistent across the week. Tuesdays are statistically the safest for giving birth at an NHS hospital.  

What is more, babies born at the weekend that are subsequently discharged are more likely to be readmitted to hospital as an emergency case within a few days of being sent home.

Researchers analysed deliveries in NHS hospitals in England in the two-year period from April 2010, looking at perinatal mortality - stillbirths or deaths within the first seven days - as well as infections, emergency re-admissions, and injuries.

Stillbirths or deaths within seven days of birth were 7 per cent higher on weekends, infections after childbirth were 6 per cent higher, and the chances of the baby suffering an injury during childbirth were also 6 per cent higher compared with those born on a week day.

Dr William Palmer, of Imperial College London, has told the BBC: "We found evidence of a weekend effect... babies that are born at weekends are more likely to have complications."

David Richmond, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said: "Although no definitive conclusions can be drawn from these results, they emphasise the need to identify the possible causes in order to ensure that women are receiving high-quality care at any given day of the week."

The study comes as the government faces a backlash from medical staff over its plans for a "seven-day NHS". Health minister Ben Gummer has said the Imperial College study is further evidence that standards of care are not uniform across the week: “We are determined to tackle this so that every new baby and mother receives the high quality care they deserve, 24 hours a day, seven days a week”.