Background: Increased mortality rates associated with weekend hospital admission (the so-called weekend effect) have been attributed to suboptimum staffing levels of specialist consultants. However, evidence for a causal association is elusive, and the magnitude of the weekend specialist deficit remains unquantified. This uncertainty could hamper efforts by national health systems to introduce 7 day health services. We aimed to examine preliminary associations between specialist intensity and weekend admission mortality across the English National Health Service.
Methods: Eligible hospital trusts were those in England receiving unselected emergency admissions. On Sunday June 15 and Wednesday June 18, 2014, we undertook a point prevalence survey of hospital specialists (consultants) to obtain data relating to the care of patients admitted as emergencies. We defined specialist intensity at each trust as the self-reported estimated number of specialist hours per ten emergency admissions between 0800 h and 2000 h on Sunday and Wednesday. With use of data for all adult emergency admissions for financial year 2013-14, we compared weekend to weekday admission risk of mortality with the Sunday to Wednesday specialist intensity ratio within each trust. We stratified trusts by size quintile.
Findings: 127 of 141 eligible acute hospital trusts agreed to participate; 115 (91%) trusts contributed data to the point prevalence survey. Of 34,350 clinicians surveyed, 15,537 (45%) responded. Substantially fewer specialists were present providing care to emergency admissions on Sunday (1667 [11%]) than on Wednesday (6105 [42%]). Specialists present on Sunday spent 40% more time caring for emergency patients than did those present on Wednesday (mean 5·74 h [SD 3·39] vs 3·97 h [3·31]); however, the median specialist intensity on Sunday was only 48% (IQR 40-58) of that on Wednesday. The Sunday to Wednesday intensity ratio was less than 0·7 in 104 (90%) of the contributing trusts. Mortality risk among patients admitted at weekends was higher than among those admitted on weekdays (adjusted odds ratio 1·10, 95% CI 1·08-1·11; p<0·0001). There was no significant association between Sunday to Wednesday specialist intensity ratios and weekend to weekday mortality ratios (r -0·042; p=0·654).
Interpretation: This cross-sectional analysis did not detect a correlation between weekend staffing of hospital specialists and mortality risk for emergency admissions. Further investigation is needed to evaluate whole-system secular change during the implementation of 7 day services. Policy makers should exercise caution before attributing the weekend effect mainly to differences in specialist staffing.
Funding: National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research Programme.
Copyright © 2016 Aldridge et al. Open Access article distributed under the terms of CC BY. Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.