The Indy plumbs new depths of irresponsibility

I expect at least some of you will recall that “The Independent” was originally launched as a quality newspaper. Those days have, however, long since passed as evidenced by today’s front page splash:


But before you take any of those statements too seriously, you really pay close attention to the caveats in paragraphs 9 & 10 of the article that goes with this scaremongering headline:

Commenting on the new studies, Dr Aylin said they added up to “powerful” evidence of a global problem in healthcare. “The German study is interesting in raising afternoon surgery as an issue, but as the authors acknowledge, it may be that ‘the patients treated in the afternoon and on the weekends were more severely ill’,” he said.

“The Japanese study is powerful in that it combines the results of 72 studies from around the world …. Both studies acknowledge the differences could reflect poorer care or simply that patients admitted at these times were more severely ill. More research is needed to find out exactly what contributes to higher mortality at weekends. Is it lack of clinical staff, nursing staff, diagnostic services, other hospital resources?”

For the record, it’s the Japanese study – a meta-analysis of data from 72 individual studies – from which the figure of 55 million patients in derived but the key thing here is not the raw numbers but the comments made by Dr Aylin which clearly appear to suggest that neither of the two studies referred to above control adequately for difference in types of surgery being undertaken at different times during the week.

To put it in simple terms, someone going into hospital on Monday morning for routine minor surgery to correct an ingrowing toenail has a massively better prospect of surviving the procedure than someone admitted at 3am on Saturday morning with a couple of gunshot wounds and you need to take this into account when compiling your statistics. If most or even all of the surgical procedures carried out in a hospital on a Saturday are emergency procedures carried out on people who are in a pretty serious condition when they’re admitted then rather more of those people are going to die than would be the case on a normal weekday, when a large of proportion of the surgeries carried out are of more routine nature, just because a much larger proportion of the people being operated on are in a much worse condition to begin with.

Although I haven’t had chance to run down copies of either study (yet) to see whether and what extent they tried to control for such differences, the brief descriptions given above appear to suggest that neither set of authors is in a position to rule out the possibility that at least part of their findings may attributable to differences in the type and condition of patients that hospitals are treating at different time during the week, all of which makes the Indy’s headline – “DON’T GO TO HOSPITAL AT THE WEEKEND” – a deeply irresponsible thing to be plastering across the front of a newspaper in large bold type.

The risk here, of course, is that someone might easily see this headline when they’re in the newsagent’s today but not buy the paper or read the accompanying article and its caveats, so that it’s only headline that sticks in the memory. A few weeks down the line, that same person might very well wake up on a Saturday morning not quite feeling themselves. Maybe they’re a little bit short of breath and they’re having a few mild chest pains, the kind of thing that really should prompt them to pop along to along to A&E and get themselves checked just to be on the safe side. Only on this particular Saturday what they remember is that they saw something on the front of newspaper a few weeks back about how you were more likely to die if you were admitted to hospital at the weekend compared to being admitted during the week, so they decide to tough it out until Monday, even though they’re not feeling 100%, just to be on the safe side…

…and a couple of hours later, the decision over whether or not to go to A&E on a weekend gets taken out of their when they have a massive heart attack, one that quite possibly could have been avoided had they not procrastinated over a misleading headline in a newspaper.

So, although I’m not a medical practitioner I am going to offer you a bit of simple advice that might, in the right circumstances, end up saving your life.

If you are taken ill at the weekend – and I do mean properly ill, not just a bit of man-flu or something similarly minor and self-limiting – then FUCK THE INDEPENDENT, GO TO HOSPITAL.

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