The Conservatives’ plan to extend weekend working would help the NHS meet rising demand for operations, rather than being an additional cost pressure, the health secretary has argued.

  • Jeremy Hunt argues weekend working may be cheapest way to meet growing demand
  • Indicates no funding for seven day working beyond the £8bn overall commitment
  • Suggests Conservatives want elective operations at weekends

The Tory election manifesto, published yesterday, has promised a “truly seven day NHS”.

In an interview today, HSJ asked Jeremy Hunt about NHS England analysis from 2013 which said moving to seven day working would require service reconfiguration and involve additional cost.

Mr Hunt said he accepted the analysis but added that it was “very important that we have a full understanding of costs and savings from a seven day service”.

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Jeremy Hunt is confident that what the Tories are allocating to the NHS can deliver a seven day service

He argued extending working to the weekend may be the most efficient way of increasing NHS capacity to meet rising demand.

“If you were to take our current activity levels and spread them evenly across seven days, rather than do the majority of them Monday to Friday, then there’s a clear resource implication,” he said.

“But that isn’t what we’re talking about. We’re talking about moving to a seven day NHS over the next Parliament, when activity levels will increase for elective care by potentially 20 per cent over the period.

“With a million more over 70s over the Parliament, there are a lot more hips, a lot more knees, a lot more cataracts [operations] that need to be done.

“In that context you have to ask, ‘What is the most efficient way, the lowest cost way, of expanding capacity?’”

Mr Hunt added: “It may well be that [weekend working] is lower cost rather than building new hospitals, building new operating theatres.”

His reference to elective, or planned, operations is also a strong indication the Conservatives intend this type of care to be carried out at weekends as well as emergency, unplanned work. The British Medical Association has previously said emergency care should be the priority for weekend working.

However, Mr Hunt indicated there would not be extra funding beyond the promised real terms increase of at least £8bn to pay for seven day running. It is thought the funding estimates underlying the NHS Five Year Forward View, which led to the NHS national leadership stating the £8bn figure, do not include additional costs for seven day working.

Mr Hunt said: “There’s a lot of detailed work to do here, but we are very confident that within the money we’re allocating to the NHS we can deliver a full seven day service.”

He said organisations running more seven day services, such as Salford Royal Foundation Trust, were also safer and consequently had lower costs than where fewer services ran five days a week.

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