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Health secretary admits NHS weekend deaths statistics are ‘complex’

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has admitted that the issue of putting a number on avoidable deaths in the NHS is significantly more complex than in other industries.

His comments, made during a fringe session at the Conservative Party conference, come despite him regularly having claimed the numbers of avoidable deaths in the NHS, particularly at weekends, were a ‘scandal’

Mr Hunt used the statistic of between 6,000 and 11,000 avoidable deaths when pushing for the introduction of the seven-day working junior doctors contract, claiming these were due to fewer staff at weekends – although later studies have labelled this a statistical artefact.

But last night Mr Hunt said that although the health sector could learn a lot from safety advances in the airline industry, it was much more obvious when a malfunction had caused a death in aviation.

He said: ‘In one area the airline industry is completely different to medicine. Which is that if someone dies in the airline industry, you know something has gone wrong.

‘In medicine, the average hospital will have around 100 people dying every month, it’s a much more complex problem as to whether a death was avoidable or not.

‘Indeed it’s a controversial issue, when it comes to things like weekend care, so it’s harder in healthcare.’

Mr Hunt was speaking at a fringe session hosted by the RCGP, on how digital technology can help improve GP access, with Mr Hunt also arguing that GPs could learn from the banking industry how to reduce workload.

He said the banks, via online banking, had ‘managed to improve service for customers, at the same time as asking them to do more work [themselves] – which I think is a very clever trick – and therefore reduced their own costs in the process’.