No evidence 11,000 NHS weekend deaths are caused by understaffing

20 October 2015
What was claimed

Understaffing in hospitals at weekends is responsible for 11,000 deaths according to research.

Our verdict

The research doesn't say this. It did find 11,000 excess deaths but says to assume these are avoidable "would be rash and misleading".

"According to an independent study conducted by The BMJ, there are 11,000 excess deaths because we do not staff our hospitals properly at weekends."

Jeremy Hunt, 13 October 2015

This isn't correct.

The research (£) found that each year in England 11,000 more people die each within 30 days of admission to hospital on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday, compared to the other days of the week. But it was very careful not to say this was caused by low staffing, or indeed anything else:

"It is not possible to ascertain the extent to which these excess deaths may be preventable; to assume that they are avoidable would be rash and misleading."

So the research doesn't support the idea that understaffed hospitals are to blame for 11,000 deaths. The researchers did say the deaths raise "challenging questions about reduced service provision at weekends", but those questions needn't just be about hospital staffing.

Community care services are often shut or reduced at the weekends, for instance.

The 11,000 figure itself has its critics. This sort of research tries to account for differences in the types of patient admitted at weekends, but it's been argued it's not possible to control for everything.

We're going to pursue a correction from the Secretary of State.

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