Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt today announced plans to put a majority of hospital doctors on 7-day contracts by 2020, saying that 6,000 people die every year because hospitals don't provide "a proper 7-day service".
The number got attention, appearing on the front pages of a number of newspapers as well as TV and radio news bulletins throughout the day.
But its source is unpublished.
When we asked the Department of Health they told us it came from Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director at NHS England. BBC Health Correspondent Jane Dreaper says the department has given her more details—the number comes from analysis of Hospital Episode Statistics from 2013/14, which is apparently due to be published in the British Medical Journal "soon".
It's inappropriate for a Minister to cite statistics which can't be interrogated by members of the public—the Code of Practice for Official Statistics is clear on this.
We've no evidence to suggest there's any problem with the figure, or the way it's been presented by Mr Hunt. Then again, we've no evidence to suggest it's true either. Another claim on the same issue—that mortality risk goes up 16% when patients are admitted at the weekends—has been criticised by some on the grounds that it's not clear that the increased risk is due to NHS performance at the weekends rather than differences in the patients who enter hospital then.
The government should not have used the 6,000 figure until it was prepared to back it up with evidence. We will refer this to the UK Statistics Authority, as it apparently came from an official source.
Production error - we meant to say we were referring to the UKSA because the statistic seemed to come from an official source, but the first version of this article didn't make that clear.
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