BMJ editor challenges Jeremy Hunt’s use of NHS data

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt misrepresented data from a study to support the case for an increase in seven-day NHS services, according to the editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Dr Fiona Godlee, editor of the esteemed health title criticised the health secretary for indicating that a higher risk of death at weekends was the result of under-staffing, the BBC reports.

Dr Godlee made her comments in a letter to Hunt, in which she said that the study in question did not cite a causing factor for the figures.

However, the government has responded by saying there was sufficient evidence to infer that staffing was to blame.


The ‘weekend effect’

The study in question – published in the BMJ in September – analysed hospital records and highlighted what it called a ‘weekend effect’, with 11,000 excess deaths from Friday to Monday in a year between 2013 and 2014.

This translated to a two per cent increase on the chance of dying on Fridays, a 10% increase on Saturdays, a 15% increase on Sundays and a five per cent increase on Mondays, when compared to the chance of dying on a Wednesday.

Speaking in the Commons recently, Hunt said the seven-day changes were “about the fact that someone is 15% more likely to die if admitted on a Sunday than on a Wednesday because we do not have as many doctors in our hospitals at the weekends as we have mid-week”.

In the letter Dr Godlee says: “I am writing to register my concern about the way in which you have publicly misrepresented an academic article published in The BMJ.

“This clearly implies that you believe these excess deaths are avoidable.”


Criticism ‘misses the point’

Health Minister Ben Gummer responded to the BBC on the Health Secretary’s behalf, saying: “Significant independent clinical evidence shows increased mortality in our hospitals at weekends linked to reduced clinical cover.

“The BMJ authors themselves acknowledge that – and any debate about precisely how many of the thousands of deaths are avoidable misses the point.

“What all doctors want is to provide the best care for their patients, and the public rightly expect the highest standards whichever day of the week they are admitted to hospital – the government is committed to supporting that.”

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