Delays Affect 3,000 Patients Who Fall Seriously Ill on Weekend

3,000 heart attack and stroke patients who fall ill at the weekend experience serious delays due to the NHS’s failure to provide a full and properly staffed seven day service.

A new report suggests that 3,000 people who suffer a stroke or heart attack every year are experiencing delays in being admitted to hospital because the National Health Service is not providing an adequate round the clock service.

Senior medics have warned that patients might be dying because they cannot get access to see a GP, or because out of hours provision is not picking up on emergency cases who should be directed to A&E.

A new study of data from the NHS shows a sharp decline in the number of people admitted into hospital as an emergency case on Saturday or Sunday, and an even larger drop in the number of patients sent to hospital by a GP.

According to the figures, 3,144 patients every year who are suffering from a stroke or heart attack do not have their case identified as a medical emergency, and as a consequence experience a delay of at least 24 hours before being admitted to hospital.

Don’t fall ill at night time

President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Cliff Mann, said that the NHS’s failure to provide true seven day emergency services means that patients get a “two-tier” service. People falling ill at night may experience a skeleton service, and mortality rates are as a consequence higher.

Patients who develop acute symptoms of stroke or heart attack are likely to go straight to A&E whatever the time of week, but those who have milder symptoms could be faced with potentially fatal delays because of problems seeing a GP over the weekend, according to Dr Mann. Previous studies have also proven that death rates in hospitals are much higher over the weekend.

NHS Medical Director, Sir Bruce Keogh, has previous expressed the desire that the NHS offer routine services on every day of the week, and should be “patient-centred, compassionate and convenient”.

The debate about how this level of care should be funded is still contentious, and there has been a breakdown in negotiations between the NHS and the British Medical Association about how much doctors should be paid to work over the weekends.

These new figures, from information analysis company CHKS, shows that the number of patients being admitted as emergencies falls by 20% over a weekend. On an average week day there are 14,582 patients admitted to hospital as an emergency, falling to 11,623 on a weekend.

These figures suggest that in total, 1,514 patients having a heart attack and 1,630 having a stroke on a Saturday or Sunday are not going into hospital until the start of the following working week.

However, the numbers of people turning up at A&E departments is fairly constant through the week, which suggests that the number of people falling ill each day is broadly similar.

Problems with urgent weekend GP appointments

Patients who need urgent care find it difficult to see a GP over the weekend according to experts, and others just assume it will be too difficult to get to see a family doctor. Another group try to “hang on” and see their own GP after the weekend.

The figures could also mean that GPs working at an out of hours service at the weekend or in the evening are less likely to refer patients on to hospital. The figures also showed that for 24 out of 25 of the most common emergencies, patients were far more likely to be sent straight to hospital during the week than on a weekend.

The only exception to these figures was admission after an open head wound, which experts believe are more likely to be relate to fights and accidents experienced after drinking on a Friday or Saturday evening.

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