In England a stroke is the largest cause of adult disability and costs the NHS £3 billion a year in direct care and now a study has found that stroke patients admitted to hospital at the weekend are less likely to receive vital scans and treatment than those admitted during the week which means more deaths and more disabilities.

The study, undertaken by a team from Imperial College London and the National Audit Office, studied more than 93,000 hospital admissions over a year. The results revealed that 350 stroke patients died unnecessarily within seven days of suffering a stroke and 650 stroke patients were left with an avoidable serious disability.

The study showed that whereas less than 9% of stroke patients admitted Monday to Friday died within seven days the death rate was 10.6% amongst those admitted on a Saturday or Sunday. 48% of stroke patients admitted during the week underwent the recommended brain scan on the day of admission, compared with 43% of stroke patients admitted at the weekend. 2.7% of weekday admissions were given blood clot medication compared with 2.2% of weekend admissions and contraction of pneumonia was at 5% of stroke patients admitted during the week and at 6% for weekend admissions.

Care for patients admitted on weekends was inferior

The chances of being seen by a neurologist or geriatric specialist were far lower for those patients who suffered a stroke at the weekend. Weekend admissions were more likely to be seen by a general doctor or A&E doctor resulting in delays in diagnosis and treatment and leading to avoidable deaths and disabilities. This was most pronounced in stroke patients under the age of 44 who if admitted at the weekend were 60% more likely to die than the equivalent patients aged over 85.

Lead author William Palmer, a researcher at Imperial College and the National Audit Office said: “Strong evidence suggests that, nationally, stroke patients admitted on weekends are less likely to receive urgent treatments and have worse outcomes across a range of indicators.

“The evidence of lower performance across process and outcome measures on weekends suggests that care for patients admitted on weekends was inferior.”

Linda Millband a solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors’ Clinical Negligence Unit said: “Patients should be able to expect the same level of care and treatment regardless of day or time of admission. Being at a higher risk of death or disability because you are admitted to a hospital at the weekend is unacceptable. People can’t plan their strokes to fit around the NHS. Services need to recognise this and improve.”