A LEADING doctor has hit out at Jeremy Hunt, saying he misled the public over a study into patient deaths at NHS hospitals at weekends.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt speaking at the Conservative conference in October
Dr Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the British Medical Journal, wrote to the Health Secretary to complain that he "misrepresented" a medical study.
She accused Mr Hunt of twisting a report into death rates to prove that fewer staff led to a spike of fatalities at weekends.
Instead, Dr Godlee claims the hospital study did not attribute blame to any one factor.
In the letter, the senior doctor said: "I am writing to register my concern about the way in which you have publicly misrepresented an academic article published in The BMJ.
"You have repeatedly told MPs and the public via media interviews that these deaths are due to poor staffing at weekends, with a particular emphasis on medical staffing."
Demonstrators march through Parliament Square during the 'Let's Save the NHS' rally
The senior doctor took umbrage with Mr Hunt's claims that the deaths were directly caused by a lack of staff at weekends.
Mr Hunt called the research a "wake-up call" but she said the study in fact avoided apportioning blame for the spike in weekend deaths.
The report into weekend deaths went on to say it would be "rash and misleading" to conclude that many of them could have been avoided.
She wrote: "This clearly implies that you believe these deaths to be avoidable. I ask you to publicly clarify the statements you have made in relation to this article to show that you fully understand the issues involved."
Writing in the British Medical Journal last month, experts said there was a "clear association" between weekend admissions and worse outcomes for patients.
The study showed that around 11,000 more people died every year within 30 days of admission to hospital on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday compared with other days of the week
Analysis of hospital records suggested people were 10 per cent more likely to die if admitted on a Sunday compared to a Wednesday, while those admitted on a Saturday had a 7 per cent increased chance of dying.
At the time Mr Hunt, who has warned he is prepared to impose seven-day working on hospital doctors in England, said the research showed the situation may be worse than suspected.
"That's why we urgently need to modernise the contracts for new consultants to make sure NHS patients do not have to worry about a lack of senior clinical presence if they are admitted to hospital on a Saturday or Sunday," he said.
The Health Secretary is embroiled in a row with the journal's owner, the British Medical Association, over contracts for junior doctors and consultants.
Mr Hunt has refused to alter proposed contract changes that will leave trainee medics working more hours for less pay.
More than 10,000 have signed the Express.co.uk petition to the Government urging them to change the plans.
Negotiations broke down despite a series of letters between the BMA and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt
Yesterday, the British Medical Association, representing the majority of England's 53,000 Junior Doctors, said they would be balloted on industrial action from November 5 until November 18.
The BMA has not yet revealed what kind of industrial action could take place if their Junior Doctor members vote for it, but a strike could be on the cards.
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