Hunt ‘misrepresented’ data on 7-day NHS

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Reuters

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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been embroiled in a row over the use of data on seven-day services

The health secretary “misrepresented” data to put his case for a seven-day NHS in England, says Jeremy Corbyn.

The Labour leader attacked Jeremy Hunt after the BBC revealed the health secretary used academically unverified and unpublished data to back his plans.

Last July, in the pay row with junior doctors, Mr Hunt said there were about 6,000 deaths a year because of the lack of “a proper seven-day service”.

Emails show one of the paper’s authors was unhappy with the figure being used.

But the Department of Health said later analysis estimated about 11,000 excess deaths due to the “weekend effect”.

A spokesman said the information had been shared with the department by the NHS’s medical director for England, Sir Bruce Keogh.

Labour is calling for an investigation into whether Mr Hunt leaned on his department in order to cover up his advance sight of the study.

Last July, Mr Hunt said: “Around 6,000 people lose their lives every year because we do not have a proper seven-day service in hospitals.”

This figure was then used regularly by the government in its argument for changes to doctors’ contracts.

The news prompted a heated clash in Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the prime minister and health secretary owed the profession an apology.

“This dispute with junior doctors has been on the basis of misrepresented research.”

But David Cameron defended Mr Hunt, saying the contract was needed to introduce more seven-day services.

“I have to say – I think if Nye Bevan was here today, he’d want a seven-day NHS because he knew the NHS was for patients up and down our country,” he added.

But Mr Corbyn hit back: “Nye Bevan would be turning in his grave if he could hear your attitude towards the NHS.”

The BBC story revealed emails from NHS England showed Mr Hunt knew details of the sensitive study into weekend deaths at least two months before it was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), and based the 6,000 figure on his understanding of the data.

When the BBC asked NHS England and the Department of Health for the source of the 6,000 figure, neither was able to answer.

The UK Statistics Authority then wrote to NHS England, reminding the department that “data mentioned publicly by ministers should be available equally to all users”.

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An email released under the Freedom of Information Act, written by NHS England’s Seven Day Services Forum project manager Deborah Williams to one of the BMJ study authors, said: “We were challenged to cite the source of the 6,000 figure and attempted to offer up the most bland statement possible, that would neither confirm not contradict [Mr Hunt’s] statement.”

The study author, Domenico Pagano, refused to corroborate Mr Hunt’s use of the figures, saying: “It will be inaccurate and counterproductive to quote that our analysis is due to be published in the BMJ shortly, as this is not the case and may seem to interfere with the peer review process.”

When finally published in September 2015, the research actually suggested there were 11,000 excess deaths per year as a result of the “weekend effect” – although the authors pointed out this could not be proven to be linked to staffing levels.

‘Interests of patients’

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