NHS England’s medical director spoke out after the Sunday Times claimed victory in its campaign for seven day services to be introduced across the country.
Under the headline “Seven-day NHS on the way”, the newspaper said its Safe Weekend Care campaign was successful after the British Medical Association (BMA) issued a statement saying it agreed to consultants working routinely on Saturdays and Sundays.
Sir Bruce welcomed the news of the breakthrough, saying: “Healthcare services around the world face many issues, one of which is how to provide the same quality care at weekends as during the week.
“The BMA’s support reflects recognition of the magnitude of the issues and a growing groundswell among clinicians to solve the problem. I am grateful to the media for promoting an honest and open debate which now sets our NHS ahead of other countries in facing up to, and addressing, a previously hidden problem.”
“The NHS 7-Day Services Forum, which is due to report its findings next month has gathered a significant amount of evidence and a number of ideas on how we bring this about safely in a financially sound way.”
Sir Bruce has previously said there is “compelling evidence” in support of quality care across the entire week, not least of all the increased mortality rates of patients admitted to hospital at weekends.
Dr Mark Porter, chairman of the BMA, regarded as the doctors’ union, told the Sunday Times: “The figures are very clear and show increased mortality of those patients who are admitted as emergencies at the weekends. It is a picture that we as doctors want to take our part with the NHS in eliminating.”
The BMA now backs doctors being present in hospitals at the weekend to treat emergencies and inpatients, rather than be on call from home.
However, the BMA still does not believe medics should be available at weekends for routine appointments or carry out planned operations.
The Sunday Times said that in a statement to be published formally this week, the BMA adds: “Fundamentally the BMA believes the NHS care should be the same high quality across seven days…but it is clear there are significant resource implications that require close examination.”
“There has been no robust modelling of what the impact would be on staff numbers and working patterns or what the financial implications would be.”
It also says the government must provide more money to prevent care Monday to Friday being reduced while consultants take time off during the week to staff wards at weekends.
Dr Mark Porter told the Sunday Times the BMA wanted to play a key role in ensuring acutely ill patients received better care at the weekend but that it felt obliged to speak out about the practical and financial difficulties of offering a seven-day NHS.
He added: “This isn’t a process of a Damascene conversion in the sense that we were totally opposed one day and totally accepting the next.
“It is partly that there is a need for us to state more explicitly what doctors believe in. It is also important for us to take stock and understand the pressures outside, by which I mean everybody in terms of The Sunday Times, various patient organisations and various other reports that are moving in this direction.”
The move by the BMA has also been reported by the Daily Mail which states: “A truly seven-day NHS is a step closer after doctors’ leaders softened their opposition….and agreed the quality of care in hospitals at weekends needs to be improved.”
Meanwhile the Guardian newspaper reports: “Doctors back plan to offer more care at weekends” adding: “Patients should have access to more NHS services seven days a week, leading doctors have said, in a move that could pave the way for routine procedures being offered at weekends.”