Ipswich Hospital chief backs Jeremy Hunt’s plans for more hospital doctors at weekends but stresses Heath Road site does not pose a risk to patients

Ipswich Hospital chief executive Nick Hulme.

Ipswich Hospital chief executive Nick Hulme. - Credit: Gregg Brown

The chief executive of Ipswich Hospital has backed Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s plans for hospital doctors to work more weekends.

But Nick Hulme insisted patients are not at risk of receiving poorer care on Saturdays and Sundays at the Heath Road site after a recent “significant” rise in weekend consultants.

Mr Hunt today gave the British Medical Association (BMA) six weeks to negotiate changes to working patterns for consultants and junior doctors, or face a new seven-day contract being enforced. He said around 6,000 lives are lost every year due to a lack of senior staff working in NHS hospitals on weekends.

Mr Hulme said: “We have seen a significant increase in consultants at the weekend and there is no evidence at the moment that there is a significant clinical risk at the weekend or indeed at night at Ipswich Hospital.

“I am not disagreeing with what the Secretary of State has said. I think the fact that the Secretary of State says we need to be looking at employing more people at weekend and nights to make sure that services are safe, I would absolutely endorse that, but that is a process we have already started and will continue.

“It is an issue we constantly review by looking at our mortality figures and seeing if there are any particularly areas that need addressing.”

Mr Hulme added: “We already offer a seven-day service in the hospital which is consultant-led, and for all of our appropriate specialities that require out-of-hours or in-hours clinical advice or leadership, we have consultants either on site or on-call at home.

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“And I think rather than needing consultants working seven days a week, my view is that we have got to look at it slightly differently.

“Nobody should be disadvantaged with the quality of care they receive or the clinical outcomes they ultimately get based on what time they visit the hospital.

“We have got to start at that position and look at the clinical infrastructure we need within the hospital to assure ourselves the care is good no matter what time you attend.

“When I work at weekends and nights, there an awful lot more consultants around than I have ever seen. We have already addressed the seven-day issues.”

The current consultant contract means senior doctors can opt out of weekend work as long as it is non-emergency in nature – although they are still expected to be on call. The contract was last negotiated by Labour in 2003.

Mr Hunt wants to cut the ability to opt out from weekend and evening working from consultants’ contracts. He is also pledging a cut back in the lucrative high-earning overtime payments consultants can get.

Meanwhile, the BMA has repeatedly called for the Government to say how they will fund and staff the changes. The union claims the Health Secretary has failed to outline concrete proposals to ensure there will not be fewer doctors on wards from Monday to Friday.

Mr Hulme said: “There are some specialities that frankly we don’t need a seven-day service for. Some of our outpatient specialities that are non-urgent, we don’t need to provide that seven-day service. “So the blanket ‘all consultants must work at weekends’, I am not sure would necessarily give me the assurance that the quality of the care that you receive will be necessarily affected by the time you attend the hospital.”

He added: “We have only got a finite number of consultants and they have got a finite number of working hours in a week. If they have been up all night, we are going to lose them potentially for a couple of days, and therefore we always have to look at the impact of requiring consultants to work more at weekends and nights potentially to see how that could affect our work.”