PLANS to cut death rates by ensuring senior doctors and vital tests are available seven-days-a-week have been welcomed in Worcestershire.

The “radical” plans are being proposed by NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh in a bid to combat a lack of resources and expertise identified as a reason behind why hospital death rates are significantly higher at weekends.

Research into more than 14 million admissions nationwide suggested the increased risk of mortality at a weekend could be as high as 11 per cent on a Saturday and 16 per cent on a Sunday.

Sir Bruce says the NHS must act urgently to provide a service fit for the 21st century and “undo more than 50 years of accumulated custom and practice that have failed to put the interests of patients first”.

He is concerned that services currently “wind down”

on a Friday afternoon, leaving patients waiting for diagnosis and treatment, and leaving junior doctors “clinically exposed and under-supported”.

He wants the changes in place within the next two years and warned clauses in consultants’ contracts stating they cannot be forced to work at weekends could be removed. And chiefs at Worcestershire Royal Hospital have already backed the call for change.

Mark Wake, chief medical officer of the Worcestershire Acute Trust, said the proposals build on work already under way in the county.

“The trust has already adopted a seven-day emergency model where there is an established benefit to patients, for example, in stroke and cardiac care,” he said. “We now need to build on this so that all aspects of emergency care are networked and effective around the clock.

“We would also like to expand access to diagnostics and elective treatments at weekends.”

Hospitals failing to comply could also be hit in the pocket for millions of pounds, with potential penalties of up to 2.5 per cent of their annual income.

Sir Bruce, meanwhile, has billed the case for change as clinically and morally “compelling”, saying the whole health system, not just hospitals, must adapt.

“It seems inefficient that in many hospitals expensive diagnostic machines and laboratory equipment are underused at weekends, operating theatres lie fallow and clinics remain empty.

“This is not just about hospitals but the whole NHS.”