People who undergo non-emergency surgery in English public hospitals at the weekend have an 82 per cent higher chance of dying within a month than those treated on a Monday, alarming new research shows.
The odds got worse every successive day of the week, with the death risk from Friday surgery 44 per cent higher than that on a Monday, said a study published in the British Medical Journal.
Lower weekend staffing levels may help explain the phenomenon, according to the researchers, who analysed 27,582 deaths occurring within 30 days of elective surgery in public hospitals in England between 2008 and 2011. The study covered more than 4 million operations.
"The first 48 hours after an operation are often the most critical period of care for surgery patients," said study leader Dr Paul Aylin of Imperial College London's School of Public Health.
"As patients are operated on closer to the weekend, their immediate post-operative period overlaps with the weekend, and issues such as infections, post-operative bleeding etc may be missed or a delay occurs in picking them up," he said.
The weekend risk increased further for deaths within two days of an operation, to 167 per cent - and this despite the fact that weekend patients generally had less risky surgery.
Only about 4.5 per cent of the procedures listed were performed on a weekend.
In an editorial, the journal asked whether a rethink was needed, adding: "The scheduling of elective procedures, such as knee replacements, is wholly within our control."