Hospital patients 'up to 42% more likely to die' if admitted at weekends
Patients with liver disease or heart disease most at risk
Aortic aneurism and stroke victims also did badly
Statistics blamed on fewer staff on duty and fewer scans carried out at weekends
16:03 GMT, 16 October 2012
Critically-ill patients are up to 42 per cent more likely to die in hospital if they are admitted at weekends, it has emerged.
Studies have already shown that the death rate goes up for patients brought in on Saturday or Sunday, when few senior staff are on duty and scans and x-rays are rarely carried out.
But for the first time researchers have calculated just how sharply these rates go up for different illnesses.
Mortality rates are 42 per cent higher for patients admitted to hospital over a weekend with liver disease, and 40 per cent higher for those with heart disease
Mortality rates are 42 per cent higher for patients with liver disease, and 40 per cent higher for those with hardening of the arteries.
Patients who had an aortic aneurism – a potentially fatal burst blood vessel – were found to be 37 per cent more likely to die if admitted at weekends.
Stroke patients are 15 per cent more likely to die and rates are 15 per cent higher for those with kidney failure.
Researchers from the Dr Foster Unit at Imperial College London analysed the death rates of all hospitals in England.
Director of research Roger Taylor said: ‘If you take for example an aortic aneurism, where your life is immediate danger, your chances of living are quite low.
‘But what makes an enormous difference is the knowledge of the doctors and nurses treating you.
‘We know this is an issue, and we also know there is an issue of providing cover with expert surgeons for this condition.’
The research also found that the death rates went up at weekends for patients with certain types of terminal cancer affecting the lung or pancreas.
Studies have already shown that the death rate at weekends when fewer senior staff are on duty and scans and x-rays are less likely to be done
Such patients were almost certainly going to die anyway and may have been discharged a few days earlier in the hope of ending their lives at home.
But a lack of nursing services at weekends meant that when their condition deteriorated, they were brought back in hospital as no one was able to come out and visit them.
Mr Taylor added: ‘A typical scenario described to me the other day is the husband had gone home on the Thursday and hadn’t been expected to live much longer, there was community nursing support for him.
‘Unfortunately he went into a coma on the Saturday morning, the wife phoned up the community nurse and got an answering machine.’
A report by the Dr Foster Unit last year found that patients with any type of illness were 10 per cent more likely to die if admitted at the weekend.
In two NHS trusts, Scarborough and North East and the Royal Wolverhampton, weekend death rates were more than 30 per cent higher.
Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS, wants hospitals to improve their weekend staff cover to bring down the high death rates.
He said: ‘Higher mortality for patients admitted at weekends is a worldwide problem.
‘I believe that we can solve this and lead the way internationally in the NHS by offering easier access to GPs, hospital consultants and routine hospital services seven days a week.’