Seven-day working plan for the NHS unveiled

16 Dec 13
NHS employers have backed moves to make seven-day working the default in the health service, saying doctors’ terms and conditions too often get in the way of progress.

By Vivienne Russell | 16 December 2013

NHS employers have backed moves to make seven-day working the default in the health service, saying doctors’ terms and conditions too often get in the way of progress.

At the weekend, NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh announced he wanted to introduce 10 new clinical standards including seven-day access to diagnostic tests such as x-rays and ultrasounds and a requirement for all emergency admissions to be seen by a consultant within 14 hours. These are to be considered by the board of NHS England tomorrow.

Commenting on the proposals, which could see consultant contracts amended, Dean Royles, chief executive of NHS Employers, said movement towards seven-day working was ‘essential’ if the NHS was to have a sustainable, long-term future.

‘The NHS can't afford to sit back and rest on the laurels of its 65 year history, and Professor Keogh's report adds to the momentum for change and progress,’ he said.

‘We are increasingly seeing hospitals and community-based health services develop innovative services that anticipate and respond to patient needs, but all too often NHS employers find the terms and conditions of doctors are getting in the way of progress.’

Publishing his proposals yesterday, Keogh said: ‘As the custodians of £97bn of public money, we must buy the health services patients deserve. We know that patients and the public want us to act now to make seven-day services a reality in all parts of the NHS.

‘It seems inefficient that in many hospitals expensive diagnostic machines and laboratory equipment are underused at weekends, operating theatres lie fallow and clinics remain empty. This while access to specialist care is dogged by waiting lists and GPs and patients wait for diagnostic results.’

The plans are expected to cost hospitals between 1.5% and 2% of their annual running costs, but Keogh said he was confident this money could be found from elsewhere in the service. They would also generate savings, as more efficient admissions and diagnoses would help hospitals financially.

Tony Whitfield, president of the Healthcare Financial Management Association, said NHS finance staff have a role in making seven day services happen.

‘If implemented, our work suggests a local rather than a standard national approach to seven days services is required as every hospital is unique,’ he said. ‘If the clinical case for seven day services is strong, internal NHS obstacles should not be allowed to prevent it.'

Dr Mark Porter, chair of the British Medical Association council, said seriously ill patients should receive the best possible care every day of the week.
‘Delivering more seven-day services will have a number of practical implications, not least on working patterns within the NHS and the vast majority of consultants already lead the delivery of urgent and emergency care at weekends,’ he said.

‘The BMA is in negotiations with NHS Employers and the government to find an affordable, practical model for delivering this care, while safeguarding the need for a healthy and productive work-life balance for doctors.’


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