Getting consultants to work seven days a week would be unaffordable, Dr Mark Porter, chairman of the British Medical Association’s consultants’ committee has said.

This is despite Porter saying exactly a week ago that if doctors did seven-day weekly rotations the number of patient deaths could be reduced. He was reported on as raising the issue at the BMA’s annual conference of consultants and saying later: “The important thing to remember is that consultants are available around the clock, to every patient throughout the health service when needed anyway.”

However, he has now said that the move would cost the NHS billions of pounds a year that it simply does not have.

Suggesting the idea smacked of consumerism, Porter said: “To be honest we are going through a period with a very austere approach to the management of NHS costs. On top of that there’s a constriction of services being offered to patients, for example limiting access to surgery for cataracts.

“At a time we are doing that, I don’t see that it’s possible to move towards a consumerist seven-day-a-week service. What resources we have should be put into caring for those who really need it most: emergency and acute patients.”

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) agreed with Porter – his latest stance that is – saying: “Our priority would be to address acute care issues and having doctors at the hospital 12 hours a day, seven days a week to cover acute care. Consultants covering the acute medical unit should have no other duties during this time.”

But last month Dr Andrew Goddard, the RCP’s director of medical workforce, said: “Patients admitted at weekends are more likely to die following admission than patients admitted during the week.”

Three years ago, an experienced GP in Leeds told that falling ill on a Friday and needing a hospital admission was a bad idea because the NHS was still “a five days a week service”, with some hospital wards becoming virtual ghost towns for two days.

Thursday was not a good day either because it is close to Friday and hospital staff start to wind down for the weekend, he said. Being admitted to hospital on a Monday was not much better, he said, because hospital staff would still be getting through the weekend’s backlog and some of the equipment would not be in operation or in situ. So the best options are to be ill on a Tuesday or Wednesday if at all possible, the GP told us.

”Try to avoid hospitals at weekends”

Responding to the BMA’s latest comments, the NHS’ medical director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh insisted: “Well designed, convenient weekend services could provide long term savings for the NHS and the wider economy by providing more rapid diagnosis, quicker treatment and advice, reduce time in hospital for some patients and time off work for others. This is why I am starting a wide-ranging debate on this issue.”