An NHS that works on weekends as well as weekdays?

Doctor looking at notes

All of us who use the NHS expect it to be there for us when we need it; after all, we don't choose whether we fall ill or need medical help in the middle of the night or at the weekend. Providing a seven-day-a-week NHS is a huge challenge but one that, as we have previously discussed, does need to be discussed and embraced. How do we ensure the NHS is there for patients on weekends as well as weekdays?

Recent debate over 7 day a week NHS provision

Two recent newspaper (see note at end for details) articles demonstrate the complexities involved in creating a round-the-clock health service that delivers the very highest standards of care.  The first, published in The Sunday Times, discussed a new set of proposals from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges which would allow patients to be treated, up to the point of having operations, on weekends as well as weekdays. The proposals aim to address the problem of patients not being properly treated over a weekend due to the lack of specialist staff availability, causing a backlog of problems to be addressed on Monday mornings.

Although the Academy’s proposals specifically refer to the NHS in England – the Scottish Government have devolved responsibility for the NHS – we know that patients and staff in Scottish hospitals face many of the same problems.  We’ve previously discussed the need to ensure Scottish hospitals are fully staffed and able to treat patients seven days a week.

What would the impact be on NHS staff?

However, what impact would this kind of change have on hard-working and dedicated NHS staff who want to provide the best possible standard of care to their patients and deserve a working environment that lets them do so?  An article in The Sunday Herald newspaper highlighted this issue when it reported some Junior Doctors in Scotland are working up to 90 hours a week.  As well as being firmly against the spirit of the various Working Time directives and legislation, this cannot surely be a safe and sustainable way for the NHS in Scotland to function, particularly as we head into the winter months and increased pressures on NHS resources.

What happens next?

The vast majority of NHS care in Scotland is carried out well. Unfortunately, in a small number of cases, it isn’t, with life-changing consequences for those involved.  Patients expect, and we know that NHS staff want to provide, the highest standards of round-the-clock care.  How do we ensure this is provided in the best and safest way possible?

Note on Newspaper articles referred to: ‘Operation End Monday Mayhem is under way’ (Sunday Times, 6th October 2013, pg. 10 and leader comment on pg. 26) and ‘Revealed: junior doctors working 90 hours a week’ (Sunday Herald, 6th October 2013 and leader comment on pg. 14)