The following letter appeared in The Guardian:
We call on Theresa May to act in the public’s interest and take immediate action over freshly disputed evidence surrounding a “weekend effect”. Department of Health documents leaked to the Guardian and Channel 4 News revealed NHS policy concerns from Jeremy Hunt’s own civil servants.
His repeated claim about thousands of patients dying unnecessarily because of poor weekend hospital care “has not been helpful” in justifying new seven-day services. The internal briefing document proposed other means to vindicate his policy, but repeats the assertion that “eight independent studies have set out the evidence for a ‘weekend effect’ – unacceptable variation in care across the week”.
The evidence for these claims is not supported by reliable research. Of the eight “studies” cited by Hunt, only four are independently peer-reviewed, yet peer-review is essential. Three use data from the same population and are not independent, with just two from the last decade.
The remainder are not peer-reviewed medical literature, being opinion pieces, the lowest form of clinical evidence.
Critically, when his claims began, at least 13 independent, peer-reviewed papers were available to the secretary of state that refute his definition of a weekend effect.
Hunt has cherrypicked research, causing a devastating breakdown of trust between government and the medical profession. In making these claims without faithfully representing the evidence, he has obstructed fact and misled parliament and the public.
We call on Theresa May to commission an independent inquiry into the process behind these policies. It is wrong to waste precious resources, or lives, because of bad evidence.
Like NHS treatments, health policy should be evidence-based to demonstrate clinical and cost-effectiveness. Additionally, we call for a pause on any policies or contractual reform driven by this evidence until it can be examined objectively and with rigour.
Dr Taha Nasser
Dr Ben White
Dr Hugo Farne
Dr Antonio De Marvao
Dr Rachel Clarke
Dr Margaret McCartney
Dr Philippa Whitford MP
Dr Phil Hammond Vice-president, Patients’ Association
Professor Alistair Hall Epidemiologist
Professor Trisha Greenhalgh Evidence-based practice
Professor Neena Modi President RCPCH
David Owen House of Lords
Professor Robert Winston House of Lords
Professor Stephen Hawking