Two large studies involving patients with two different types of heart condition suggest a higher mortality risk for those admitted at weekends.
Patients with atrial fibrillation admitted to hospital over the weekend face a higher risk of dying over the next five years than those admitted during normal hours, found one study by Aston University.
Involving 42,687 patients with atrial fibrillation, it found those admitted during out-of-hours periods have a 10% increased risk of dying in the next five years.
“The weekend effect is very much a reality for those suffering two of the most prevalent heart conditions”
The research was adjusted to account for external factors which could influence death rates, such as age, gender, ethnic group, and the most common causes of mortality in the UK.
In a separate study, the same researchers looked at 31,760 heart failure patients discharged from hospitals in the north of England at weekends, finding a 32% increased chance of dying over the next five years compared to those sent home during regular weekday hours.
Both studies were presented today at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference in Manchester.
The results will help fuel the debate over the government’s aim of implementing a so-called “seven-day service” in the NHS by 2020.
Ministers and the British Medical Association have both cited conflicting evidence on weekend mortality rates during their heated dispute over a new contract for junior doctors.
Dr Rahul Potluri, from Aston University’s medical school who led both of the new studies, said the results showed that the “weekend effect is very much a reality for those suffering two of the most prevalent heart conditions in the UK”.
Heart studies reveal ‘weekend effect’ in NHS
“These patients are, quite simply, more likely to die if admitted or discharged outside regular hours, and that trend is particularly noticeable at the weekend,” he said.
Co-author Dr Paul Carter, who presented the results in Manchester, said: “We took steps during this study to ensure that the comparison between the two groups was as fair as possible.
“It is interesting that both being admitted or discharged from hospital on the weekend confers an increased risk, and one which is sustained in the long-term,” he said.
He added: “We cannot comment on the underlying reasons for this from our study but it suggests that the level of support provided at weekends, from all teams involved in healthcare – in the hospital and in the community should be addressed.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “This is further clear evidence of unacceptable variation in care across the week, which this government is determined to tackle.
“To create the safer seven-day NHS that we promised the country, we must tackle a variety of factors including weekend staffing levels and access to diagnostics,” she said.