No evidence of ‘weekend effect’ in psychiatric units

  • International Medical Press
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Mental health patients admitted to hospital at the weekend are no more likely to die than those who arrive on a weekday, according to a new study.  

The findings challenge Jeremy Hunt’s claims that patients admitted at the weekend are at greater risk of dying.

The Health Secretary has said as many as 11,000 patients die avoidably every year as a result of the ‘weekend effect’.

The study investigated 45,264 people admitted for inpatient care for serious mental health problems by the South London and Maudsley (SlaM) NHS trust between 2006 and 2015. It found that most patients (17.4%) died on Wednesdays and the fewest (10.7%) died on Saturdays.

Published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the study states: ‘Our findings suggest that patients admitted to a psychiatric hospital at the weekend are not at greater risk of inpatient mortality compared with patients admitted during the working week.’

Dr Rashmi Patel, the SlaM psychiatrist and academic at King’s College London who led the research, said: ‘One of the problems with the way the “weekend effect” has been portrayed is that the Secretary of State has selectively chosen to present a few studies which suggest differences in mortality associated with weekend admission and he has ignored others – like our own study – which have shown no significant difference.’

Mr Hunt has repeatedly asserted that patients’ greater risk of dying within 30 days of admission at a weekend shows that more doctors must be on duty on Saturdays and Sundays. The claims have been used to back the proposal of a ‘seven-day NHS’, a key Government pledge.

Dr Patel said: ‘Our study does not support the need to have more doctors on duty at the weekends in psychiatric hospitals. In fact, if this means having to reduce the provision of doctors during the week to provide more doctors at the weekend, this could harm patient care.’

This is the first study to investigate the weekend effect in psychiatric care. Previous research has concentrated on patients with physical health conditions admitted to hospital, usually after first visiting A&E.

Dr Dan Poulter, a former Conservative MP who is now training to be an NHS psychiatrist at SlaM, said: ‘This comprehensive study indicates that there is no discernible “weekend effect” in mental health hospitals, with adverse patient events actually lower at weekends than on some weekdays. Rather than political spin and soundbites, it is essential that plans for a seven-day NHS are based upon sound evidence of what is required, and that they are properly resourced and funded.’