BBC Question Time Audience Member Criticises Jeremy Hunt's Use Of NHS Death Statistics

15/01/2016 00:17 | Updated 15 January 2016
  • George Bowden Acting Young Voices Editor, The Huffington Post UK

A woman embarked on a passionate plea to her fellow BBC 'Question Time' audience members not to believe Jeremy Hunt's contention that deaths in the NHS rise at weekends.

She blasted the health secretary for "misinterpreting" figures from an academic paper to backup his claims about 11,000 extra deaths in the NHS at weekends.

She claimed that rather than prove a reduction in quality of care on Saturdays and Sundays, the paper found deaths rose amongst those admitted between Friday and Monday over a 30-day period.

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The woman pointed out the 'misinterpretation' of the paper which Hunt has used to back-up his weekend death claims

Referring to her fellow audience member, she said: “It is so sad that you have taken this on from this government.

"It is not true. Let me tell you, he got the data a month before that paper came out - let’s ask why?

“What he regarded as a weekend was a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday.

“That is not a weekend, a weekend is Saturday, Sunday, is it not?

“He said that people were dying on Saturdays and Sundays, now if you look at that paper, on a Saturday and a Sunday less people were dying.

“He spoke about it as though we were only talking about people dying on the weekends but the paper looked at 30 days.”

After applause from the audience, Tory Minister Nick Boles responded: “I’m sure there are going to be occasions when I am asks to defend cuts.

"I think it’s important that people know that if the proposals (to junior doctors' contracts) come into force, we will not save a penny."

Thursday's panel included Kelvin McKenzie, the former editor of The Sun, is joined by Camilla Long of The Times on a panel which includes Ukip's Patrick O'Flynn, the Conservative's Nick Boles, and Labour's Cat Smith.

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Junior doctors staged a 24-hour walkout on Tuesday, leading to the cancellation of around 4,000 operations and thousands of appointments.

The disagreement centres on changes to medics' pay and working conditions and the basis for the current round of negotiations is the Government's offer from early November, including an 11% rise in basic pay.

But this is offset by plans to cut the number of hours on a weekend for which junior doctors can claim extra pay for unsocial hours.

Hunt said today that health officials were "busting a gut" to ensure A&E departments will function if junior doctors carry out strike action next month, insisting the dispute over the controversial new contract can be resolved.

Discussions between the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Government will continue in an effort to break the stalemate in the English junior doctors dispute.

Two further strikes are planned - a 48-hour stoppage and the provision of emergency care only from 8am on Tuesday January 26, and a full withdrawal of labour from 8am to 5pm on Wednesday February 10.

Mr Hunt said that despite efforts by officials and senior doctors he could not guarantee that all A&E units would be able to open if the February 10 strike went ahead.

  • 1 Who are junior doctors?
    Stuart Gleave via Getty Images
  • Junior doctors are those doctors who have graduated from medical school but who are yet to qualify as either a consultant or general practitioner.

    Doctors are required to undertake five years of medical training and to graduate from accredited schools before entering what's known as a foundation period.

    They are then required to work as juniors after the foundation period before ascending to consultant or GP status. This means many doctors do not fully qualify until well into their 30s.
  • 2 Why are their contracts changing?
    Stuart Gleave via Getty Images
  • Demands upon the NHS are increasing, and at the same time, the government wants to move towards a seven-day, out-of-hours health service.

    Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says planned contract changes will make healthcare more flexible, and more able to adapt to changing levels of demand.

    He has denied the charge that the contracts are specifically designed to lower the wage bill of doctors who'll be forced to work 'out of hours' for no extra pay.
  • 3 Why are people unhappy?
    Stuart Gleave via Getty Images
  • Junior doctors are unhappy at the proposed contract's potential effect on safe working hours.

    They say that introducing new shift patterns and broadening normal working days to include hours up to 10pm may have the effect of increasing tiredness amongst medics.

    The new contracts may impinge on doctors' work-life balance, reduce time spent with their families, and may increase work-related stress. These may affect patient care, some argue.

    Dr Shebby Kamalvand wrote of the hypocrisy of the proposals - the implication that doctors are worth less than they are paid now, but are required to work more flexibly to cope with increased demand.

    The proposals may also make things less fair for those working less than full time and taking parental leave.

    But most of all, the British Medical Association believes the threat of imposition to be entirely unacceptable -- a stumbling block so large it has halted negotiations entirely.
  • 4 What do they want?
    Stuart Gleave via Getty Images
  • According to the British Medical Association, which represents junior doctors in negotiations, they want: "The BMA wants the following concrete assurances in writing from the Government before we can agree to re-enter negotiations:

    - Proper recognition of unsocial hours as premium time - No disadvantage for those working unsocial hours compared to current system - No disadvantage for those working less than full time and taking parental leave compared to the current system - Pay for all work done - Proper hours safeguards protecting patients and their doctors

    The contract proposed by the Government rides roughshod over the best interests of doctors, of patients and of the NHS as a whole. Junior doctors have made it clear that they are not prepared to accept a contract that is unfair and unsafe."
  • 5 Will they get it?
    Stuart Gleave via Getty Images
  • Negotiations are currently at an impasse, with both NHS Employers, which acts on behalf of government, and representatives of junior doctors refusing to budge on the threat of imposition.

    A staged introduction of the new changes could take effect whereby those joining the profession are subject to the new conditions.

    However, this may do little to tackle the dire recruitment and retention of junior doctors after the foundation period.

    Jeremy Hunt is likely to move forward in a way which brings junior doctors back around the negotiating table.
  • 6 And what if they don't?
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  • But there are signs of what will happen should Mr Hunt refuse to yield to doctors' demands.

    Members of his own party have highlighted cases of doctors emigrating from the UK to work as doctors elsewhere. Dr Sarah Wollaston, now a Tory MP and chair of the Commons Health Select Committee, says that her own daughter and eight of her doctor friends have left the UK for Australia.

    And it doesn't look like they'll be alone in leaving Britain. The General Medical Council has received more applications for a Certificate of Currently Professional Status so far this year as it did in the whole of 2014. The Certificate is needed if doctors wish to practice medicine abroad.

    In 2014, the GMC issued 4925 certificates. So far this year it has issued 7468, its latest figures reveal.

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