Top consultant warns against routine surgery at weekends

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Hospital care will suffer if hospitals are forced to stay open at weekends for routine treatment, the leader of Britain's consultants warns today.

Responding to proposals from the Department of Health that the NHS should be run like Tesco, the chairman of the British Medical Association's consultants committee, Paul Flynn, says standards will fall and costs will rise.

Tesco can raise profits to pay for extra opening hours whereas the NHS has to work within a fixed a budget, he points out. Death rates in NHS hospitals have been shown to increase at weekends when fewer senior medical staff are on duty.

Mr Flynn, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, says that while emergency patients must receive the same standard of care whenever they are treated, it does not follow that routine surgery should also be provided at weekends. "It flies in the face of all logic to reward a system that is not using its existing resources to best effect over five days by giving it the opportunity to mismanage them over seven," he writes in the British Medical Journal.

"Many NHS providers are already … consulting on [redundancies]. It is inconceivable that they will be able to staff operating theatres and clinics seven days a week."

Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director, also writing in the BMJ, says having a weekend service would "improve outcomes" and be "more patient focused".