Up to 11,000 more people die each year after being admitted to hospital over the weekend compared with other days of the week, a major study suggests.

The disclosure comes days before a deadline for doctors’ unions to agree changes to consultants’ contracts, in an attempt to increase levels of weekend cover, or see them imposed.

The study of 15 million hospital admissions, published in the BMJ, found a significant “weekend effect” for patients admitted between Friday and Monday.

The figures stand in contrast to estimates by Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, who said in July that the number of extra deaths during weekends was 6,000 a year.

Overall, patients admitted on Saturday or Sunday – when staffing levels and access to backup services are reduced – were twice as likely to die within 30 days of surgery, the study found.

Some of these deaths were because patients admitted at weekends are likely to be sicker, given that less hospital treatment routinely takes place during this period. The study showed that even when this was taken into account, those who were admitted to hospital at the weekend were still significantly more likely to die.

The highest death rates were among those admitted on Sunday, with 15 per cent more deaths, once figures were risk adjusted, and 10 per cent more on Saturday.

Prof Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director and one of the authors of the landmark study, said it revealed an “inconvenient truth” that could no longer be ignored and required an overhaul in the way services are run.

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