Leading doctor says weekend staffing data ‘not valid or credible’

A leading doctor has called government data on weekend staffing in hospitals “not valid or credible”.

Dr Mark Holland, President of the Society for Acute Medicine (SAM), said the views of clinicians and teams who already provide seven-day services had not been sought.

It has been revealed figures obtained by the Department of Health from NHS Employers – which showed 40% of junior doctors worked more than one in four Saturdays – were taken from a “snapshot” poll of 14 hospitals in England.

“A snapshot of 10% of hospitals in England doesn’t give a valid or credible picture of what is happening in our hospitals,” said Dr Holland, who spoke out at SAM’s spring meeting in Belfast.

“It is of great concern to clinicians that the government seems to have little idea about how seven-day services do not revolve around a single staff group, yet have made no attempt to talk to the people who have the tacit knowledge.”

SAM is the national representative body for the specialty of acute medicine, which deals with the immediate and early treatment of adult patients with a variety of medical conditions who present to hospital as emergencies.

“Our ideology is that we want competent decision-makers in multi-disciplinary teams – including consultants, junior doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, pharmacists physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, dieticians and physician associates – in our acute medical units,” explained Dr Holland.

“We were talking about providing seven-day services long before Jeremy Hunt became Secretary of State for Health and we have consistently worked towards constructing teams in environments which are properly managed and where everyone, from consultants to healthcare assistants, has a key role to play.

“It won’t be achieved by isolating and singling out a group of staff in junior doctors who we are already struggling to recruit, particularly in urgent and emergency care.”

Dr Holland, who will address around 300 delegates about his vision for the future of acute medicine later today, added: “What we have seen with the health secretary’s comments about weekend working and junior doctors is the same as what we see with sound bites around the four-hour emergency access target – talk but no desire to understand the real issues.

“For example behind the four-hour target are numerous problems, such as patients who have been admitted to inappropriate wards.

“As a true multi-professional society and having led the development of seven-day care, we simply want the public to know that the practical solutions to improved seven-day acute medical care are more complex than junior doctors working more weekends.

“We aspire to better seven-day acute medical care but proper planning and implementation is vital.”

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