Hunt’s weekend death claim ripped apart by study

By Joe Mellor, Deputy Editor

A medical expert has said that Jeremy Hunt might be “trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” regarding increase weekend death claims.

Prof Peter Rothwell laid into Hunt in the Mirror for not carrying out “due diligence” in a report which dismissed his claims that more NHS patients die at the weekend.

Rothwell called for an urgent investigation by MPs into “flawed” data behind the top Tory’s claims.

Mr Hunt has often quoted studies saying patients are more likely to die on the weekend as a way to justify his demands for a 7-day NHS. Many people in the medical profession already claim the NHS is a 7-day service and simply does not have the capacity to expand in the way Hunt is planning, leading to numerous Junior Doctors’ strikes.

But Prof Rothwell, from Oxford University, said it should have been “fairly obvious” something was wrong with the data.

Rothwell’s team studied 1,693 stroke hospital admissions and found 638 (38%) were lower-level incidents that had been put in the wrong category.

That skewed weekend death figures, because it meant many so-called “acute stroke patients” had simply gone in on weekdays for routine appointments.

Prof Rothwell said: “We don’t want to be putting in enormous amounts of money trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

“The routine administrative diagnostic coding is something that’s done once the patient’s discharged.

“That’s fine for straightforward admissions, but it’s actually very difficult for elderly patients admitted in A&E with several previous conditions – so often they get it wrong.

“What the Department of Health should have done was just check when they did their analysis that there wasn’t some problem with the coding.

“They didn’t do the due diligence to check whether there was something funny going on with the data.

“My feeling is Jeremy Hunt and the Prime Minister have been badly let down by their team. The quality of the research they’ve based this on is poor in ways they couldn’t realistically have perceived.”

“There are probably other studies coming up I suspect in the next few weeks so I think there will be a steady build-up of evidence.

“Certainly for stroke, this idea which Jeremy Hunt was widely quoted on that you are 20% more likely to die of a stroke at the weekend therefore weekend care is poor – there’s no evidence of that.

“The same problems we found for stroke, we also found for other conditions.

“The onus really has to be on the Department of Health, who claim there’s a problem which needs billions spent on it, to prove that it’s needed.”

BMA Council deputy chair Dr Kailash Chand, speaking in a personal capacity said: “Jeremy Hunt’s statements about mortality and seven-day working in the NHS simply don’t stack up.

“He has been economical with the truth by repeatedly attributing excess deaths to doctors not being available at weekends.”

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