PLANS to instruct hospitals to make senior staff and vital tests available seven-days-a-week are “long overdue”, according to a top county health watchdog.

Peter Pinfield, chairman of Healthwatch Worcestershire, says the current NHS can sometimes be a “dangerous” place to be for patients who suffer health problems at the weekend.

“I have been involved in health and social care over a number of years and we have known for some time that generally speaking, if you have some problems over the weekend and have to go into the health service it is possible not to have the same degree of service,” he said.

As previously reported in your Worcester News, research into more than 14 million admissions nationwide suggests the increased risk of death in hospitals at the weekend could be as high as 11 per cent on a Saturday and 16 per cent on a Sunday.

NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh recently unveiled plans to ensure experienced seven-day cover and combat a lack of resources and expertise at weekends.

It is anticipated that increasing their services will cost hospitals about 1.5 to two per cent of their annual running costs, but Sir Bruce believes money can be found from other parts of the NHS to pay for the plans.

And Mr Pinfield believes the cost is more than worthwhile.

“It will cost money but you cannot put a price on a person’s life,” he said.

“To me, it (the current arrangement) is dangerous and unacceptable.

“That has been the case for some time and it is about time that it was addressed.”

The Worcestershire Acute Trust has already backed the changes – saying they build on work already underway at hospitals like Worcestershire Royal.

Clauses in consultants’ contracts stating they cannot be forced to work at the weekends could be removed under the new regime, with hospitals failing to comply hit with potential penalties of up to 2.5 per cent of their annual income, Sir Bruce has warned.