Is death in Hospital due to understaffing? 17 Dec 2015

The British Journal of Anaesthesia had published research after a study involving approximately 295,000 hospital patients. The results of that research have shown that patients die in hospital often because they have been admitted to hospital over the weekend period. It is well known that there is less staff in hospitals at weekends. Often wards are closed, departments are closed and more staff such as radiologists and consultants is on call over the weekend.

This in turn may lead to delays in treatment, tests or investigations being carried out. This then can lead to delays in diagnosis and sometimes death of a patient.

Saturday and Sunday hospital services are limited. This according the research study can lead to higher rates of death following weekend admission and is especially prevalent in maternity units with babies being delivered at weekends.

St Georges University of London team focused their study on the various factors behind the difference in death rates following emergency abdominal surgery between 2005 and 2010 at over 150 NHS Trusts. The study included routine procedures such as appendectomies and hernia repairs as well as surgery to treat stomach ulcers. Out of 12,000 patients a small proportion died within 30 days but the telling statistic was of those who did die, they were patients at the NHS Trusts with less staff on duty.

The report states:
“The third of hospitals with the lowest number of doctors per bed had death rates 7% higher than the third with the most. The difference was the same for nurse staffing levels.”

Interestingly if a patient was admitted to hospital for emergency surgery at the weekend there was an 11% increased chance of death in comparison with being admitted to hospital for the same emergency surgery in the week.

It would be naïve to assume that the lower staffing rates were the only cause of such deaths, but it is obvious that it is one of the causes.

I was recently involved in a inquest relating to the death of a teenager who was admitted to a London Hospital with an emergency medical condition that required routine emergency surgery. A locum junior doctor treated him, and many of the nursing staff involved in his care was agency staff. This was a major factor that leads to the failure to diagnose his condition and the failure to carry out surgery, which led to his death the following day. The NHS Trust has admitted that he would of survived if he had been diagnosed correctly and operated on the day that he was admitted to A & E department. Instead he was discharged home with Dioralyte for rehydration.

The message is clear, if you are admitted to hospital at the weekend, you must be assertive and ensure that you are treated, as you should be if that is possible or risk receiving substandard treatment.


If you think that you have suffered substandard medical treatment in hospital or by a GP or other medical professional, you can contact Osbornes Medical Negligence department for a free and confidential conversation on 020 7485 8811.

Alternatively, you can email:
Stephanie Prior, Partner at
Nicola Hall, Solicitor at

Share this article