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Seven-day healthcare 'unrealistic'

Plans for a seven-day NHS are "not realistic" and would require more funding, the British Medical Association has warned.

The proposal to make NHS hospitals offer a full range of healthcare, including elective operations and diagnostic tests, seven days a week was first announced in 2013 by NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh, who suggested hospital trusts could be contractually obliged to do so and face fines for breaches.

But Dr Mark Porter, chairman of the BMA council, said putting on services on Saturdays and Sundays would lead to them being cancelled during the week, amounting to a "diversion of services" rather than an expansion.

Dr Porter, speaking to the Guardian, said: "It's not realistic to carry on doing what we are doing at the moment and then add a new service on top of it within existing resources. More money is vital.

"If the decision (by a hospital) is taken to put half a dozen outpatient clinics on a Sunday afternoon then they have to be taken from somewhere else - that is, they won't be on on a particular day during the week.

"That's the inescapable reality of doing this within existing resources, but politicians' vision doesn't go into that sort of detail."

Sir Bruce has described making the NHS provide seven-day services as a "number one priority" and his review in 2013 came after statistics showed there was a higher mortality rate at weekends - as high as 11% on a Saturday and 16% on a Sunday, according to an analysis of more than 14 million hospital admissions in 2009/10.

The changes could cost around £1 billion to implement with routine surgery for minor conditions, such as hernias, as well as blood tests, X-rays, ultrasounds and MRI scans to be carried out at weekends.

Speaking in December 2013, he said: "It seems strange in many ways that we should start to wind down on a Friday afternoon and warm up on a Sunday while operating theatres are empty, outpatient clinics echo, expensive diagnostic kit isn't being used and in the meantime people are waiting for diagnosis and treatment."

A Department of Health spokesman said: " Patients expect to receive the same standard of care regardless of the day of the week. A seven-day NHS service will speed up diagnosis and discharge times as well as reducing the amount of time patients need to spend in hospitals at weekends.

"This is why we've asked independent pay experts to advise on how employment contracts could be changed to make seven day services a reality."

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