A new group is to be established to review the barriers which prevent the NHS from functioning as a seven-day service, offering procedures such as day surgery at weekends.
The NHS Commissioning Board will announce the group when it publishes its planning guidance for 2012-13 tomorrow, the BBC has reported. The planning guidance will play a similar role to the NHS Operating Framework in the past, setting priorities and system rules.
The move comes as the government is also expected to seek changes in medical consultants’ contracts.
The group - which will include patient representatives, health providers and external analysts - comes on the back of recent research which suggested mortality rates were much higher for patients admitted to hospital on a Saturday or Sunday.
Commissioning board medical director Sir Bruce Keogh said the group would have to examine hospital staffs’ “terms and conditions”, as well as proposing possible incentives, but stressed that it was not about forcing employees to work at the weekend.
“I am just trying to build a practical, moral and compassionate case on behalf of patients. You have got to get people to believe in the moral case,” Sir Bruce said.
“It is time for the NHS to offer more routine services at the weekend, in addition to emergency services. This will be a big cultural change, but our focus should be on convenience and compassion for those seeking our help.”
The government said it “fully supported” a seven-day service, with health minister, Lord Howe, insistent that patients needed the NHS “every day”.
“Offering easier access to hospital consultants, GPs and routine hospital services seven days a week will reduce delays and ensure that patients get seen and treated by experienced healthcare professionals,” he said.
The British Medical Association said it was “open to discussion” about the move.