Senior medical and scientific figures have called on the Prime Minister to set up an inquiry into Jeremy Hunt’s claim that 11,000 patient deaths a year are caused by a lack of medics on duty in hospitals at weekends.
In a letter to the Guardian, they claim the health secretary has caused a “devastating breakdown of trust between government and the medical profession” by misrepresenting the evidence on the “weekend effect”.
The letter’s signatories include Stephen Hawking, Prof Robert Winston and Prof Neena Modi, president of the RCPCH.
Hunt has come under fire since he began maintaining last year that “there are 11,000 excess deaths because we do not staff our hospitals properly at weekends”.
Critics accuse him of highly selective use of complex evidence about the higher number of patients who die within 30 days of being admitted to hospital on a weekend.
The letter is a significant new challenge to Hunt’s integrity over the weekend effect and what lies behind it.
The Department of Health’s own risk register – leaked in July – even queried his use of the statistics.
It said: “The link to the weekend effect has not been helpful for seven-day services as our insight tells us that patient safety is not top of mind for the public or the workforce.”
The letter says there is so much disagreement about the evidence underpinning the weekend effect that ministers should pause the new junior doctors’ contract and the push to create “a truly seven-day NHS”.
It calls on policy making to become evidence-based, in the same manner as health treatments.