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Renewed call for more doctors and nurses to work weekends

MORE doctors and nurses are needed if seven-day working in the NHS is to be achieved and patients are not to be put at risk at weekends, according the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

Dr Neil Dewhurst, president of the college, said the statistics were "indicative of an NHS under severe pressure as he referred to the figures produced by Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont about the drop in staffing levels between weekdays and weekends, revealed during First Minister's Questions this week.

The figures prompted warnings about the level of services available at weekend and brought renewed calls for a comprehensive review of NHS staffing levels in Scotland. Figures for NHS Lothian showed a fall in medical staff at NHS Lothian from 1182 on weekdays to 25 at weekends. The number of nurses fell from 5186 to 1919. Dr Dewhurst said the "figures had to be treated with a little caution" as more staff are required during the week to oversee out-patient appointments and planned procedures which are not routinely scheduled for weekends.

But he added: "We believe that this snapshot is a fair representation of weekend cover in Scottish hospitals nationally and indicative of an NHS under severe pressure. There is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that higher patient mortality rates are experienced at weekends when there is reduced cover."

He added: "We believe it essential that the NHS moves to genuine seven-day working and that patients' outcomes should not depend upon the day or time of admittance. This can only be delivered with an increase in the medical and nursing workforce."

His comments echo those of the director of the Royal College of Nursing in Scotland, Theresa Fyffe, who said: "We fully support the need for proper seven-day working in the NHS but we really need a top-to-bottom review of the whole system."

The BMA in Scotland had also expressed concern and said the only answer was more staffing, saying: "Any plans to increase consultant presence during weekends needs to recognise that, without a significant increase in workforce, there will be a reduction during the weekdays."

The Herald's NHS: Time for Action campaign has highlighted the growing pressures on hospitals and argued for a review of capacity across the health service.

The concerns about weekend staffing came days after NHS Lanarkshire was ordered to make widespread improvements in the wake of a damning inspectors' report into mortality rates at Wishaw, Monklands and Hairmyres. The Scottish Government points to recent investment of £4 million in improved patient flow through hospitals to improve staffing levels.

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