Government officials had severe reservations about the Department of Health’s push for seven-day services according to leaked official documents.
The documents leaked to The Guardian state that the NHS does not have enough staff or money to deliver seven-day services and even if it does go ahead, patients may not notice the difference.
The leaked paper is an assessment of the Conservative’s general election pledge with 13 major “risks” outlined.
The most pressing danger is a “workforce overload”, as officials said it would not be possible to fill all the roles “with sufficiently skilled/trained staff to agreed timescales, meaning the full service cannot be delivered”.
This risk had a “red” status on the document, highlighting it as one of the more dangerous risks.
Donna Kinnair, director of nursing, policy and practice at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “People have a right to expect that they’ll be able to get the treatment and care they need, no matter what time of day it is, or what day of the week.
“But we now know that the Government admits what we have always argued – that an already overstretched service cannot be expected to do even more with the same resources without putting patients at risk.
“With 24,000 nursing vacancies at the last count, and years of pay restraint making staff retention even more difficult, the Government needs to accept that unless there is significant investment there will simply not be enough nurses in the NHS to deliver their vision for seven day care.”
The “risk register” also shows that the Department of Health sees NHS staff as a “barrier” to the seven-day service ambition “because they do not believe in the case for change”.
Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said: “The BMA has been quite clear that patients should receive the same high standard of care seven days a week, but we have also repeatedly raised concerns over the past year about the lack of detail and absence of any plan on how the government intends to deliver this.
“To see in black and white that the government has not only ignored these concerns – and those of other leading healthcare organisations – but has also disregarded its own risk assessment’s warnings about the lack of staffing and funding needed to deliver further seven-day services, is both alarming and incredibly disappointing.”
The documents also reveal that Department of Health officials were concerned that the plan might not deliver on certain aims including improving hospital care and reducing death rates at the weekend.
A department source told The Guardian: “A risk register by definition details all potential issues under a worst-case scenario to help the government develop robust plans to ensure we meet our promises to the electorate, but we are confident our programme for a safer seven-day NHS is on track, and will deliver real benefits for patients.”