Patients should have access to more NHS services seven days a week, leading doctors have said in a move that could pave the way for routine procedures being offered at weekends.
The apparent U-turn by the British Medical Association (BMA), which has previously opposed the plans, could see a range of services become available at weekends, although it warned there was “much work to be done”.
In a new paper it said patients should have greater access to high quality emergency, urgent and acute services every day of the week, and that it is committed to working with the NHS to develop a revamped model for delivering care.
Dr Mark Porter, chairman of the BMA Council, said doctors had to be at the forefront of the discussions about how this could be achieved: “There is much work to be done on determining a model for seven-day services, especially around the practical and financial implications for the NHS and for doctors’ working patterns.
“We are already in negotiations with the government on how to develop working patterns which meet patient demand and deliver greater consultant presence at weekends, while safeguarding the need for a healthy work-life balance.”
He said doctors would have to examine what services could be provided within tight financial constraints: “We believe delivering consistently high quality emergency, urgent and acute services across seven days should be the priority.
“This should be the starting point for a debate on what additional services the NHS can provide given the economic climate, and we look forward to working with all stakeholders to find a solution that’s good for patients, fair for doctors and affordable for the NHS.”
Catherine Macadam, chair of the BMA’s patient liaison group, said: “We very much welcome the BMA’s commitment to working with patients and other stakeholders to find a workable model for seven-day services which ensures that NHS care is of the same high quality across seven days, with acutely ill patients as the top priority.
“Patients rightly expect to have access to high quality care whenever they need it and however they access it. There is much work to be done to ensure the health service is more responsive to patient needs and we expect that doctors will play a leading role in driving these changes in the NHS, working with others to find a sustainable solution and putting patients at the heart of the NHS.”
Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s medical director, said the provision of care at weekends was one of the key issues facing the NHS.
“Healthcare services around the world face many issues, one of which is how to provide the same quality care at weekends as during the week.
“The BMA’s support reflects a recognition of the magnitude of the issues and a growing groundswell among clinicians to solve the problem. I am grateful to the media for promoting an honest and open debate which now sets our NHS ahead of other countries in facing up to, and addressing, a previously hidden problem.”
He said the NHS seven day services forum, which is due to report its findings next month, had gathered a significant amount of evidence and a number of ideas “on how we bring this about safely in a financially sound way”.
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