Babies born in English NHS hospitals at the weekend have a "significantly" greater chance of dying than those born during the week, according to a new study.
The Imperial College London study examined more than 1.3 million births between 1 April 2010 and 31 March 2012, and found that there were 7.3 deaths per 1,000 babies delivered at weekends compared to just 0.9 per 1,000 babies delivered on weekdays.
The researchers said that although death rates were low, the difference was significant and that if performance was consistent throughout the week there would be 770 fewer new born deaths per year as well as 470 less maternal infections.
The figures have raised fresh concerns about the so-called ‘weekend effect’ whereby standards of patient care are supposedly worse at the weekend. Despite this, the Imperial College team say they found no “consistent association between outcomes and staffing.”
In September, an analysis published in the British Medical Journal, of 14 million patients admitted to hospitals in England in 2013-14, suggested that those admitted to hospital over the weekend were at a greater risk of dying within 30 days than those admitted during the week.
The study revealed that around 11,000 more patients died within 30 days of being admitted to hospital between Friday and Monday than those who arrived on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.
One of the authors of the paper, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, said the reasons for the weekend effect included the fact that patients admitted to hospital over the weekend were more likely to be sicker and at a greater risk of dying than those admitted during the week. However, he also cited the fact that fewer hospital consultants were available on Saturday and Sunday.
The findings reignited the on-going debate around the government’s drive to make the NHS a full seven-day service by 2020, a policy deeply at odds with the medical profession and one that has led to strike action among junior doctors.
A more recent study, conducted by Oxford University, revealed that up to 600 babies are dying needlessly every year due to errors made by doctors and midwives. The analysis, which looked at stillbirth rates and the number of new born deaths that occurred within seven days in hospitals from 2010 to 2012, found that birth injuries and infection rates for mothers were higher at weekends. Although there was little difference in staffing levels between hospitals that either complied or failed to comply with the guidelines for weekend consultant cover, researchers said that more data was needed on staffing before it could be ruled out.
The availability of out-of-hours senior staff remains a key issue in maternity care. Every new born death is a tragedy for the families involved and it is vital that the NHS has the means to ensure there are enough properly trained and supervised staff available outside normal working hours to guarantee a consistent and high quality standard of patient care throughout the week.
The clinical negligence solicitors at Slater and Gordon help families who have had to deal with devastating birth injuries in a sensitive and supportive manner. We understand the complex legal and medical issues involved, and the importance of supporting you through this most difficult time.
If your baby was injured during pregnancy or child birth due to medical negligence call us for a free consultation any time of day on 0800 916 9049 or contact us online. We can provide immediate representation anywhere in the UK.