Junior doctors Hunt protest 3

Junior doctors and academics yesterday protested outside Parliament at Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s “false and damaging” claim that people who suffer a stroke at the weekend are 20 per cent more likely to die.

They handed in a letter to the Department of Health accusing him of “misleading” the public and damaging confidence in the NHS’s emergency care, which is already available seven days a week. They carried a giant poster of the book How To Read A Paper to highlight his perceived inability to understand and interpret clinical research.

Junior doctors Hunt protest 2

Mr Hunt, as part of his drive to secure victory in the dispute with junior doctors and create a so-called “seven-day NHS”, claimed: “At the moment we have an NHS where if you have a stroke at weekends you’re 20 per cent more likely to die.”

Mr Hunt’s critics say he was quoting from old statistics that failed to recognise advances in stroke care, especially in London. They say more recent studies showed there was no longer an increased risk of death to stroke patients at the weekend.

Dr Dominic Pimenta, a London-based junior doctor, said: “This group wants to raise awareness about the culture of scaremongering based on misrepresenting statistics by politicians, which we find reprehensible and dangerous.

“Already we are finding evidence of patients coming to harm as they delay attending hospital, having been told by the Government that hospitals are unsafe at the weekend.”

Junior doctors Hunt protest 1

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The public should not delay accessing services if they need them. However, there is clear independent clinical evidence that standards of care are not uniform across the week and this Government makes no apology for tackling the problem to make sure all patients receive the same high quality care seven days a week.”

Last year Mr Hunt was criticised by Fiona Godlee, editor of the British Medical Journal, for wrongly linking a study it published on “excess” weekend mortality rates to lower staffing levels. See here for more on the “Hunt effect” and how it is claimed to have deterred patients from seeking medical help.

Acas talks were resuming today between the Government and British Medical Association in a bid to avert a junior doctors’ strike on February 10 that would include the withdrawal of cover in emergency departments for the first time. A two-day walkout planned to start next Tuesday [Jan 26] was called off by the BMA earlier this week.