All hospitals will provide key services seven days a week by 2020, David Cameron will pledge today, as he goes head-to-head with Labour on Ed Miliband’s strongest issue.
The Prime Minister will promise that a Conservative government would ensure that consultant-level services are offered at the weekend. The first changes would be improvements to emergency and urgent care and supporting services such as diagnostics.
Speaking in Manchester, Mr Cameron will say that the NHS in England would become the first western healthcare system to tackle the problem of poor services and under-used facilities and equipment at the weekend.
Research shows that the most seriously ill patients are admitted at the weekend, when hospitals are least well equipped. Death rates for people admitted on a Saturday are 11 per cent higher than those who arrive on a Wednesday and 16 per cent higher on a Sunday.
Addressing the Conservatives’ spring forum, Mr Cameron will say: “With a future Conservative Government, we would have a truly seven-day NHS. Already millions more people can see a GP seven days a week, but by 2020 I want this for everyone, with hospitals properly staffed, especially for urgent and emergency care, so that everyone will have access to the NHS services they need seven days a week by 2020...The first country in the world to make this happen.”
The Prime Minister will say: “For years it’s been too hard to access the NHS out of hours. But illness doesn’t respect working hours. Heart attacks, major accidents, babies – these things don’t just come from 9-5. And the truth is that you are actually more likely to die if you turn up at the hospital at the weekend. Some of the resources are not up and running. The key decision-makers aren’t always there.”
Mr Cameron’s decision to make the NHS the theme of his speech is significant. Lynton Crosby, the Australian strategist who is the Tories’ campaign director, has urged the party to stick to the economy, its strongest card, and told it there are no votes to be won on health because Labour is more trusted on the issue.
The Tories, who want GP surgeries to open from 8am-8pm seven days a week, say the expansion of hospital care would be funded from the extra £2bn they have already promised the NHS. This forms part of the five-year plan drawn up by Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England. Tory officials said the use of under-used hospital resources could save money as well as lives in the long run.
Some hospitals already provide weekend care. Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust offers consultant-led emergency care from 8am-midnight seven days a week. Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Trust runs diagnostic services including CT scans from 9am-5pm at the weekend. Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust saw a 34 per cent increase in patients being discharged on the day of their admission or the next day after more consultants worked at weekends.
Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of NHS England, said: “We have evidence that mortality rates for patients admitted to hospitals on both sides of the Atlantic is higher at weekends, that our junior doctors feel clinically exposed and unsupported at weekends, and that hospital chief executives are worried about weekend clinical cover.”
Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, said: “At the last election, David Cameron promised seven-day NHS services in his manifesto. Five years on, he’s making the same promise again. Not only has he failed to deliver on that promise, he made it harder for people to get a GP appointment from Monday to Friday. It is typical of the brass neck of a man who thinks he can take the public for mugs.”
He added: “With the NHS in increasing financial distress, David Cameron must set out clearly how it will be paid for. His extreme plans for spending cuts will mean they won't be able to protect the NHS.”
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