UK study shows higher hospital mortality for weekend admissions

People admitted to English hospitals in an emergency at the weekend have, on average, a seven per cent higher mortality rate than people admitted between Monday and Friday, according to research published in the journal Quality & Safety in Health Care this week.

The new study is the largest ever to look at the differences between weekend and weekday mortality, focusing on the deaths of patients admitted as emergencies to 163 acute hospital trusts in England during 2005-06.

The study's authors, from the Dr Foster Unit and the Department of Acute Medicine at Imperial College London, say the higher than expected mortality rates they identified during the period may be linked to less consistent specialist services such as diagnostics at weekends and a decrease in the availability of senior hospital staff. However, the authors say more research is needed before they can draw any firm conclusions about the causes of the apparent increase in mortality rates.

In particular, the research shows a higher mortality rate at the weekend compared to weekdays for patients with conditions including heart attack, heart failure, stroke, some cancers and aortic aneurysms.

The authors suggest poorer access to hospital services and variations in staffing levels at the weekend may be contributing to the difference in death rates. In addition, specialist community and primary care services such as those for cancer patients may operate a reduced service at the weekends, which the authors say could result in some terminally ill patients dying in hospital at the weekends rather than at home.

In the study, which was supported by Dr Foster Intelligence, the researchers reviewed 215,054 deaths out of a total of 4,317,866 admissions.