New research covering over 1.3 million births in England found that babies born in hospitals at the weekends have a significantly greater chance of dying than those coming out on weekdays.

The team from Imperial College London saw just over seven deaths for every 1,000 babies delivered at weekends, contrary to the 6.5 deaths for the same number of births on weekdays.

The researchers wrote that the death rates were low – averaging 4,500 per year from 675,000 births – but the difference was significant, raising concerns on the level of care provided at hospitals at weekends.

The study, published Nov. 24 in the British Medical Journal, focused on stillbirth or infant death data within seven days of hospitalization between 2010 and 2012. It considered risk factors such as maternal age and the baby’s deprivation, along with the fact that low-risk Caesarean section deliveries usually occur during weekdays.

Infections among mothers and babies were also higher at weekends, comprising simple cuts to brain damage. The lowest infant death rate was recorded on Tuesdays, which would result in 770 fewer deaths annually if it applied to all other days of the week.

According to lead researcher Professor Will Palmer, the higher death rate and frequency of problems at weekends was “concerning,” entailing further probe. The team, however, said they could not identify the root cause – they looked at compliance among staffing levels but said more data is necessary.

A separate study published in September found that patients admitted at weekends also had a higher death risk within a month than those admitted during weekdays. It prompted a drive to increase service delivery at weekends, which led junior doctors to vote for strike action beginning next week.

Health minister Ben Gummer reacted to the latest study and sought further evidence that hospitals are delivering uniform standards of care throughout the week. He said they are “determined” to tackle the matter to make sure all mothers and babies receive optimum care 24/7.

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists president Dr. David Richmond said that no definitive conclusions can be obtained from the results.

“[But] they emphasize the need to identify the possible causes in order to ensure that women are receiving high-quality care at any given day of the week,” he added.

Photo: Ginny Washburne | Flickr

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