Hunt’s actions show ‘extreme political arrogance or an attempt to destabilise the NHS’

The editor of the British Medical Journal has repudiated the Government's arguments on the 'weekend effect'


Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), has delivered a body blow to Jeremy Hunt’s claims about weekend mortality in an editorial published today.

The so-called ‘weekend effect’ has become the government’s key justification for its intractable approach to negotiations with the British Medical Association (BMA) over the junior doctors contract.

However, after Hunt alleged, in a speech to the Commons in July 2015, that ‘6,000 people lose their lives every year because we do not have a proper seven day service’, a reliable source could not be found for the claim.

Similarly, his suggestion that ‘you are 15 per cent more likely to die if you are admitted on a Sunday compared to being admitted on a Wednesday’ did not seem to have a clear academic basis.

It has now been established that Hunt was citing an as-yet-unpublished BMJ article, the details of which were obtained by his department because the authors shared their findings with colleagues before its publication.

According to Godlee, this sharing of information between departments neither violated commonly-accepted academic ethics nor interfered with the peer review process.

However, she puts forward three major criticisms of what Hunt chose to do next:

  • Firstly, the statistics were used without clarification as to their source, a potential breach of the ministerial code that caused considerable confusion.
  • Secondly, Hunt and his Conservative colleagues have consistently attributed the ‘weekend effect’ to a shortage of doctors. This clearly misrepresents the viewpoint of the authors, who emphasise that the study does not establish causation.
  • Thirdly, by ‘misusing the data to beat up on doctors’, Hunt has undermined NHS England’s attempts to address excess weekend deaths and engineered an unnecessary government feud with medical professionals, leaving NHS patients and staff to ‘deal with the fallout’.

The government’s consistent implication that doctors are to blame for weekend deaths has been one of the most contentious issues in its dispute with the BMA, and is among the causes of extremely low morale within the profession.

This is particularly pronounced since, as Godlee argues, measures were already in place to reduce weekend deaths and, without the government’s aggressive intervention, ‘the clinically led process already in motion would have had us well on the road.’

Since this piece of research has been at the core of the Conservatives’ arguments on the junior doctors dispute, Godlee’s repudiation seriously weakens their case. But whether they will backtrack remains uncertain — they are not averse to knowingly deploying bad information.

What is certain is that both Hunt and David Cameron have already been guilty of gross misrepresentation of scientific evidence. They no longer have any credibility on this issue, and should be reminded of that at every possible opportunity.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward

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9 Responses to “Hunt’s actions show ‘extreme political arrogance or an attempt to destabilise the NHS’”

  1. Michael F.

    Government Ministers tell lies. That’s news?

  2. A.Edwards

    Every five years the people of this country elect a Government to run their public services which includes the NHS.
    If they don’t like the way that Government runs those services including the NHS, then they have the option to kick them out and let another one have a chance.
    The public do not elect the BMA or any other ‘ worker body ‘ to run our services……the public themselves are patients from time to time in hospitals and if they like me notice that there is a definite ‘ slowing down ‘ effect of the service in our hospitals and GP practices etc at weekends …they like me will form their own opinion, without resorting to obvious biased reports from medical bodies.

  3. Marge

    Completely agree with the article.everybody knows that Jeremy Hunt is coauthor of the book how to dismantle NHS and start privatisation of NHS.the easiest way is to mess up so much within NHS that nothing will be able latter to save it. Also quality of care which we doctors are giving to patient will lower as we all are within the years are gaining experience by doing medical Courses- in ascitic tap,central vein cannulatuon, using ultrasounds- each of the courses fees range between 200- 2000 pounds for 1 or 2 days.Now we will not be able to afford them so we will not be doing them and we will not be able to do many of interventions, procedures as before. Also any exams which we need to take for example MRCP – which consist 3 part exam costing around 400 pound part one, 400 part 2 and around 800 part 3 – last one of exam.How with will be able to afford or find time for home study / preparation.Even courses to prepare for this exams cost between 500 – 2000. and now if u want to become Gp- their exam Mrcgp cost above 2000 for both parts not mentioning money which u need to spend for courses to prepare. Great, therefore it will all have to be at the end privatise as standard care given by doctors will fall, and patient will be themselves going to prices clinic hoping for good level of care.

  4. NOT Fit for work

    I had my Stroke on a weekend back in 2009. My treatment at Kings Hospital, Camberwwell could not have been better and the Medical staff, including a Consultant, could not have been better. I owe my life to the Weekend shifts at Camberwell and will be forever grateful. So go on, support the Junior Doctors; you know it makes sense.

  5. Anna Farrell

    Sadly this government wants to finish what Thatcher started in the 80’s As a former NHS worker and all to frequent user of the NHS.I have seen how staff have been demoralised and attacked by the Conservative party time and time again.Money and services withdrawn.Leaving A & E departments and staff to pick up the pieces.Whilst being constantly abused by the public for long waiting times. Some people are in crisis,others use A & E instead of GP’s and other services.Because they can not access services that have been withdrawn.Beds reduced in hospitals,mental health services very difficult to access.Units closed down..but it’s always the fault of the staff.
    Well it’s NOT..they all work hard under more and more pressure and do the best they can.It is and always will be a caring profession..for all who work within it.
    The government want to bring it to it’s knees..and from what I have seen.Almost have,the people who need a lot of services. Could never get private health insurance to cover health cover..we will end up like other countries.If you can’t pay, we won’t get some teatments.
    Agenda for change was brought in under the promise of better pay and conditions of service,but is not used as it was intended.
    Drug companies charge whatever they want..regardless of actual cost of the poduction of certain drugs.Bease they know they can get away with it.I wored in the NHS for nearly 20 years,and had need of services since birth.So I do know something about what has and is going on within the NHS for nearly 50 years.

  6. John

    I more than sympathise with the NHS, all of the staff of course & the the user patients. I am retired & now live abroad. During my life I have had to use the NHS on many occassions for myself & my family (from Gt Ormond St hospital for children …… through to other hospitals & Emergency Life Support machines for myself). As a user I have seen many changes to the NHS from the days of Emergency Ward 10 through to the situation that we have now, where eveyone is completely over stressed with very low morale which includes senior staff. That is not how a good leader is supposed to lead Mr Hunt, where everything & everyone is literally bottom line costed with no reference to anything else. It is a service Mr Hunt, not a factory production line. People pay their taxes for this, expecting medical help when they really need it.

    In the meantime are not your ministerial colleagues only to willing to spend billions of pounds of taxpayers money on upgrading Trident? Please do not expect people to be in sumpathy with your government about the loss of jobs with grounding Trident; when you are only to willing to make any public service person redundant. You complain about service efficiency, whether it is the councils, the teaching profession, etc or the NHS. For sure there is always room for improvement, but not with the high risk of collateral damage, which is what you are doing now.

    This government was only to willing to ‘market’ the NHS at the 2012 Oympics in London – because of all the preparation that had gone in to it. Now with the sorry state of the NHS that people are seeing, because of your governments equivalent of ‘asset stripping’, they see that it can no longer be advertised!.

  7. ted francis

    A. Edwards does not seem to realise that by the time of the next election irreparable damage will have been done. He also seems to have forgotten the “The NHS is safe in our hands!” slogan that the Tories used repeatedly, along with promises of ring-fencing, parity of funding, and denials of privatisation intent. It started with the egregious Andrew Lansley and is being ruthlessly pursued by the man Hunt. Okay, so don’t be persuaded by the people at the coal-face but at least take a balanced view of the historical facts. Regrettably, I need constant recourse to the NHS for consultation, treatment and medication. It is clearly identifiable that services recognisably began to worsen 5/6 years ago. Its not all conspiracy theory you know, A. Edwards.

  8. N.V. White

    With the collapse of the NHS within sight what will replace it? The government’s ignorance is so profound that if the public are left without a service civil disobedience will be a euphemism.

  9. David Davies

    Hunt has not thought about the 40% extra staff that extending the `normal week’ entails – even if they and the money were available.

    One way to free up funds would be to cancel all PFI contracts – the precedent is now set – and replace them with more `affordable’ alternatives.

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