This site is intended for health professionals only

GP academic gives Hunt tips on appraising evidence after weekend mortality claims

A leading GP academic has issued Jeremy Hunt with a free copy of her book on appraising scientific evidence after the health secretary has been condemned for misrepresenting statistics on weekend mortality.

Professor Trisha Greenhalgh, professor of primary care health sciences at the Univeristy of Oxford and a practising GP, today tweeted a letter to the health secretary highlighting key sections in the enclosed copy of her book ‘How to Read a Paper’.

The letter, under the heading ‘Appraising scientific papers’, states: ‘Please find enclosed a complementary [sic] copy of my book: ‘How to Read a Paper’. You may find the following sections particularly helpful:

  • The hierachy of evidence, which defines uncontrolled observational studies as a relatively weak form of evidence, to be treated with caution (Page 41);
  • The important distinction between association and causation, and the reason why the former should not be conflated with the latter (Page 62); and
  • The perils of selecting evidence to fit with your assumptions and plans rather than undertaking a thorough and dispassionate review of the topics (Page 116).

’I very much hope that you will find time to read the above sections.’

Mr Hunt has been criticised in parliament and public for stating that thousands of deaths could be avoided by implementing seven day working reforms pledged by the Conservatives.

The health secretary cited a BMJ study showing patients had a 15% increase in mortality within 30 days, if admitted Friday to Monday compared to mid-week.

Though beneath the findings, study author and NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh writes: ‘It is not possible to ascertain the extent to which these excess deaths may be preventable, to assume that they are avoidable would be rash and misleading.’

The Government’s use of the study to justify the imposition of a new contract on junior doctors has sparked 20,000 strong protests in the capital, with the BMA set to ballot junior doctors on strike action in early November.