Developing

Hospital Surgery At Weekends Under NHS Plans

Routine operations, scans and consultations could be set to take place on weekends under new proposed changes to the NHS.

The plans are part of a series of measures being discussed by the new NHS Commissioning Board which will take over day-to-day control of the health service from April 2013.

A spokeswoman said: "We are looking at options to provide a greater seven-days-a-week service."

The plans are designed with convenience for patients in mind.

Quality of care and patient safety are also factors behind the proposals after research carried out by University College London earlier this year found patients admitted on a Sunday are 16% more likely to die than those admitted midweek.

The Alexandra Avenue Clinic in London is already open seven days a week.

Dr David Lloyd told Sky News: "It means patients don't have to go two days without seeing a doctor and it means acutely ill patients can be seen in a setting that isn't a hospital and hopefully we can prevent a log-jam in A&E.

"It's one of the adages of the world in hospitals that you admit for seven days a week, and yet everything grinds to a halt at the weekends.

"In fact if you work a seven-day week it means that you can get all the tests done much more quickly, it means that patients have to spend less time in hospital, so in fact you might be able to save some resources."

Patients at the clinic told Sky News it would be more convenient if they could also book hospital appointments on Saturdays and Sundays too.

One said: "I don't want the doctors to work too long hours because that would mean our care is in jeopardy.

"Maybe they could hire more people, in that way it could be good."

Sir Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: "For some years we have known, particularly with evidence from North America, that the care of patients at weekends seems to lead to a greater death rate.

"They need all the services, there's some quite good evidence that for instance X-rays and other procedures are not done as frequently at the weekends as in weekdays.

"It may well be the lack or delay to those screening procedures at the weekend is the thing that causes the slight increase in the mortality of patients admitted at the weekend."

NHS bosses are in discussion with doctors about how the changes would affect the way they work.

It is thought no doctor would be forced to work at weekends so incentives may need to be agreed to make weekend working attractive.

The NHS Commissioning Board will oversee expenditure of England's £95.6bn NHS budget from April next year.

It has also allocated £64.7bn for 211 local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), which are led by GPs and will take responsibility for local secondary, community and mental healthcare services.

The NHS Commissioning Board will monitor standards. It has said any referral to treatment wait of more than 52 weeks should attract financial penalties and indicated there should be zero tolerance of MRSA.

Sir David Nicholson, the NHS Commissioning Board's chief executive, said: "The NHS can be justly proud of its achievements. 

"People wait less, they are diagnosed and referred quicker and our hospitals have fewer infections. But everyone in the NHS knows we must continue to improve. 

"We want to make the NHS the best customer service in the world by doing more to put patients in the driving seat."