Research suggests that Jeremy Hunt’s comments about the lack of a seven-day NHS may be to blame for the deaths of two people.
In analysis published online by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), two people in need of urgent medical attention died in October because they wrongly believed that they should not visit hospital on the weekend, after the health secretary claimed they would be at increased risk of dying.
Dr Hoong-Wei Gan, clinical research fellow at Great Ormond Street children’s hospital, examined 40 cases in his research and found that 32% of people who delayed visiting NHS services after comments made by Hunt suffered “long-term, irreversible morbidity” as a direct result.
Overall, the health of 82% of patients deteriorated by delaying their visit to a GP or hospital over false fears that using NHS services on the weekend would increase their risk of dying.
Discussing his findings, Gan said:
“It is particularly concerning that two deaths were possibly attributed to the delayed presentation, that the vast majority of patients were at significant risk of harm as a result, and that nearly 30% of patients could have avoided hospital admission altogether [if they had sought earlier treatment].”
Dubbed “the Hunt effect”, these result are familiar to doctors around the country, who have seen the health of a number of patients deteriorate by staying at home over the weekend rather than visiting a doctor or a hospital A&E department.
Gan’s results do not prove causation between the health secretary’s comments about 11,000 “excess” deaths a year among weekend-admitted patients, but the statistically dubious claim widely reported in the press has given many people a reason to pause before visiting the hospital on the weekend.