Keogh has suggested that there is a ‘moral’ case for seven day health care services, due to higher mortality rates in hospitals at weekends. He cites the absence of weekend GP services as a major factor in increasing A&E visits on Saturdays and Sundays, which undoubtedly plays a role in the overstretching of hospital resources.
However, the pledge comes at a time when many medical professionals are already reporting high stress levels and long working hours, with ‘burnout‘ damaging emergency medical care. This is coupled with decreasing resources in health care budgets.
In order for GPs surgeries to be open longer during the working week and at the weekend, there are strong indications that this will mean some services might be slimmed down or closed. With no apparent increase in the overall numbers of GPs, in order to provide longer opening hours doctors will need to share a larger geographical area, meaning that patients may need to travel further to see a GP. This could be a real barrier to service accessibility for patients who are ill, frail or elderly.
The planned reforms also include increasing access to consultants, diagnostics and elective or routine operations in hospitals at the weekend. The Sunday Express has stated that many members of the British Medical Association have reportedly threatened strike action if the proposals go ahead, reporting that they do not believe there are currently the facilities to operate a week long service.
As many of Fletchers Solicitors’ cases show, medical negligence is more likely to occur when healthcare professionals are overworked and resources are overstretched. So while increasing patient access to services is a positive step, this will need to be properly planned and supported to ensure service quality and patient safety can be assured.