Jeremy Hunt's 7 Day NHS is doomed to fail if its forced through without extra resources

04 Oct 2016
On [the] Sunday on the eve of Labour Party conference I had the privilege of visiting the Royal Liverpool University Hospital. Yes, as everyone except our Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt knows, the NHS is up and running on a weekend.

Acute health is always available in the NHS. Some procedures and most elective surgery however are not. What Jeremy Hunt seems to be bullying and threatening towards is that the NHS make these procedures available 7 days a week with no additional government funding. Presumably, Theresa May kept him on because she was so pleased with the outcome, the first ever all-out strikes in the NHS.

There is no spare capacity in the NHS currently. The portrait of a doctor as a man strolling around the golf course early on Friday afternoons is simply a fiction. She is much more likely to be asking a friend or family to pick up the kids because she’s working late, unpaid, again.

Without spare capacity the forced extension of working hours will result in NHS staff working longer and more unsocial hours for the same pay. Many people are relieved that the junior doctors action has been called off. But the issues they highlighted will not disappear. And they will probably confront all NHS staff at some point.
Diane Abbott says the 7-day NHS might work, but only if it gets more resources

The biggest danger is that health professionals will vote with their feet. It has happened before when the NHS has faced severe staff shortages. Many of the most skilled may find that pay and working conditions are more attractive abroad. This applies to highly skilled NHS workers whether they were trained here or recruited from overseas. They may even simply switch career, wasting all that training and expertise.

A full 7-day NHS might be feasible, with the appropriate resources. I’m keen to learn from the brilliant staff at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, who have been able to achieve full 7 day care, by bringing in extra staff, not by changing contracts. But trying to force through a major reform like this without resources is doomed to failure, and we could all pay the price.

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