Death rate higher on bank holidays

Patients admitted to hospital as emergencies on public holidays are significantly more likely to die than those admitted on other days of the week, including weekends, according to research.

International evidence suggests the death rate among emergency admissions is around 10% higher at weekends than it is for other days of the week, which adds up to around 3,000 extra deaths every year in England alone.

The authors of a study published in Emergency Medicine Journal wanted to find out if similar patterns were evident for patients admitted to hospital on public or bank holidays.

They therefore looked at seven and 30-day death rates among patients admitted as emergencies to Dumfries Infirmary in south-west Scotland between January 2008 and December 2010.

The hospital serves a population of 150,000 people, and admits 6,700 patients as medical emergencies every year. During the study period, 20,072 people were admitted as emergencies to the medical unit. Three-quarters (77%) were admitted during the week, with the remainder at weekends.

Some 5.6% of these admissions occurred on public holidays which, with the exception of January 1 and 2, 2008, were part of a three or four-day holiday period.

Patients admitted at weekends were slightly older, less likely to have cancer and more likely to have a respiratory problem. Those admitted on public holidays were also more likely to have a respiratory problem. But otherwise there were no distinctive differences in the caseload.

In all, 771 patients (3.8%) died within seven days of admission, while 1,780 (8.9%) died within 30 days. After taking account of factors likely to influence the results, death rates were only slightly higher at weekends.

But they were significantly higher for public holiday admissions - on weekdays and weekends - than for other days. Some 5.8% of patients died within seven days compared with 3.7% of those admitted on other days of the week, while 11.3% died within 30 days compared with 8.7% of those admitted at other times.

This means that patients admitted as medical emergencies on public holidays were 48% more likely to die within seven days and 27% more likely to do so within 30 days.