The Tory press strikes again. Last week, the Daily Mail put out misinformation about the so-called NHS ‘weekend effect’, contradicting the very research that it was reporting on.
The paper was reporting on research from Bristol University that examined evidence of the ‘weekend effect’ – the supposed effect on mortality levels of people admitted to hospital at weekends – by analysing data on patients admitted at weekends with hip fractures.
The research clearly found that there was no evidence of a ‘weekend effect’ among a quarter of a million NHS patients admitted with a broken hip between 2011-14.
Yet the Daily Mail reported using the headline ‘NHS ‘weekend effect’ IS Real’.
The paper went onto write that ‘Patients with broken hips are 10% more likely to DIE if they have surgery on a Sunday’. It also reported on a link between discharges on a Sunday and increased risk of death.
But the ‘weekend effect’, which has been repeatedly used by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in the dispute with junior doctors, is about mortality rates of those ADMITTED to hospital at weekends. It’s not about those discharged or having surgery on a Sunday.
The study did find that there is a 10% increased risk of mortality for those having surgery on a Sunday, along with a 52% increased mortality risk for those discharged on a Sunday and a 17% increased risk with out-of-hours discharge.
These are admittedly important findings. Adrian Sayers, the lead author on the research paper, stated that ‘the analysis has brought up questions of the importance of timing of surgery, how surgery on a Sunday differs from the rest of the week’.
But these are separate findings from those on weekend admissions, as the research makes clear. Hospitals have more control over surgery and discharge times than they do over admissions, meaning they can plan more effectively around such findings.
They also relate to one day – Sunday – rather than the weekend as a whole.
So why did the Mail have to twist and manipulate the findings? Why didn’t it accurately reflect the university press release on the study?
It could be that the ‘weekend effect’ issue has become a highly contentious one in the dispute between the government and the junior doctors. The paper has repeatedly sided with the government during the dispute and has published numerous attacks on the doctors and the British Medical Association for their plans to strike.
Interestingly, another major study at Edinburgh University has just found that weekend surgery has no affect on mortality rates. How did the Daily Mail report on this study? It buried the information away in two sentences at the end of the article on the Bristol study.
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