Leaked documents reveal doubts over viability of seven-day NHS service

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Some Department of Health documents have been leaked and they've revealed some concerns from senior officials over the NHS...

Turns out hospitals may lack enough key staff to make a seven-day service work properly. The assessments (obtained by The Guardian and Channel 4 News, FYI) are said to show senior officials have voiced doubts over things like the lack of detailed costings, risk assessment, and limited data supporting the policy.

One document in particular, has caused concerns. It's a "risk register" for the seven-day services programme, dated July 25. And it refers to the possibility that there will not be enough resources to meet the deadline for the "complete roll-out" of the policy.

So, what other things are the documents reported to state? Well, a "workforce overload" could mean it may not be possible to find enough skilled staff. Which, in turn, could mean "the full service cannot be delivered".

Another document, regarding a meeting with the 7 Day Services Governance Group, references under key risks and issues: "The detailed costs of delivering in hospitals, including accurate estimates of additional workforce requirements are not understood early enough."

The impact of Brexit was also mentioned in the documents - a high number of NHS staff are from the EU.

The thing is, no advance impact assessments have been done on how seven-day services will affect GPs, hospitals, and urgent and emergency care, according to a further document called Building The Evidence Base - that's what Channel 4 news said.

And there are also fears, following these leaked documents, over whether the policy might not deliver on its key aim of improving services at weekends.

Jeremy Hunt
(Stefan Rousseau/PA)

One document states: "It is possible that the programme delivers the planned outputs, but this does not result in the desired change (delivering against the plan but missing the point)."

ICYMI, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has promised to provide a "truly seven-day service" by 2020. And you'll probably remember the policy was a major source of tension during the bitter junior doctors' dispute.

British Medical Association head Dr Mark Porter said the documents underlined its own concerns about the policy.

He said: "To see in black and white that the Government has not only ignored these concerns - and those of other leading healthcare organisations - but has also disregarded its own risk assessment's warnings about the lack of staffing and funding needed to deliver further seven-day services, is both alarming and incredibly disappointing.

"If the Government wants to make more services available across seven days, then it needs to urgently address how it will staff and fund them rather than continue to mislead the public and brand doctors - who already work round the clock, seven days a week - as a roadblock to their plans."

hospital ward
(Peter Byrne/PA)

Professor Jane Dacre, president of the Royal College of Physicians, told Channel 4 News: "We would be very keen to give the same quality of care for patients seven days a week as we are able to do in five, but at the moment we are struggling to deliver good quality care over five days.

"So, to just expand to seven days and expect the quality to be the same, it's not surprising there are problems."

Meanwhile, Labour shadow health secretary Diane Abbott described the situation as a "scandal" and said she would be contacting Hunt to see if he had misled Parliament.

The Department of Health insisted that a risk assessment was by definition a look at the worse case scenarios.

A spokesman said: "Over the past six years eight independent studies have set out the evidence for a "weekend effect" - unacceptable variation in care across the week.

"This government is the first to tackle this, with a commitment to a safer, seven-day NHS for patients and £10 billion to fund the NHS's own plan for the future, alongside thousands of extra doctors and nurses on our wards."