The public’s main interest in NHS seven day working is convenience rather than safety, a new poll indicates.

The survey from Ipsos MORI, shared exclusively with HSJ, asked: “The government is proposing seven day health services for the NHS. For what reasons, if any, do you think this might be needed?”

Thirty-six per cent of respondents said convenient waiting times and the same proportion mentioned a “lack of appointments”. Twenty-seven per cent said improving quality at the weekend. Only 14 per cent mentioned “too many deaths among those admitted at the weekend”.

Asked to rate what the biggest problems facing the NHS were, “services being worse on some days than others” and “some services being unavailable at the weekend” were top among 15 and 25 per cent of respondents, respectively. This was below “long waiting times” on 44 per cent, “a lack of resources generally” on 43 per cent, “an increased number of immigrants” on 28 per cent, and “too many NHS managers” on 28 per cent.

The news follows reports at the weekend that patients admitted to hospital between Friday and Monday had a higher mortality rate.

The findings could have implications in the dispute between the government and the British Medical Association over seven day working and contract negotiations.

The BMA has argued that making sure there is senior medical presence for emergency work at the weekends is more important than running elective services on Saturdays and Sundays.

The answers, which were given to pollsters unprompted, also saw 9 per cent of respondents say: “I don’t think seven day services are needed.”

However, the fieldwork for the study ended on 23 August, so will not have taken account of any effect from last weekend’s reports.

Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, told HSJ: “It is understandable that many people view the debate on seven-day services in terms of convenience and access. The government has sought to present it in these terms without being honest about the difficulties of delivering more care at a time of enormous pressure on existing services. However these findings and other evidence show that the public also understand the considerable strain the NHS is under. A majority don’t believe more seven-day NHS services are currently affordable and do not want it to come at the expense of weekday care.

“The BMA’s position is clear: we want patients to have access to the same high quality of care seven days a week and believe the priority for investment should be urgent and emergency care. Given the existing pressures on the NHS and the financial difficulties facing many trusts, it simply isn’t possible to provide every service around the clock, so we must prioritise areas that will deliver the greatest clinical benefits to patients.”

Updated on September 14 to include comment from BMA


Exclusive: Public thinks seven day services needed for convenience not safety, survey shows