Babies who are born in hospitals on weekends in the United Kingdom have a slightly higher risk of birth injuries and deaths. Mothers also have a higher risk of negative outcomes. This finding resulted from a study conducted between 2010 and 2012 in National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in England. During this time, 1,332,835 deliveries and 1,349,599 births were studied.
The study found a statistically significant increase in infant mortality and other adverse outcomes during weekend deliveries compared with weekday deliveries. The study authors estimate that 770 more neonatal deaths occurred on the weekends than would have happened if the births had taken place during the week. For mothers, the most common serious problem was puerperal infection, the incidence of which increased, as did the less serious and more common perineal tear.
Are these finding equally true in the United States? The last study of the so-called “weekend effect” was in 2003, at which time researchers did not find a statistically significant difference between weekday and weekend births in terms of outcomes. However, even in the short time between the two studies, the hospital climate in the U.S. has shifted. If a study similar to that performed in the U.K. was conducted today, U.S. findings would be similar, according to some experts.
The reason: Staffing patterns have shifted, with the disparity between weekend staffing and weekday staffing greater than before. However, the English study had one feature that may make it difficult to compare its results with U.S. results. The women were tracked by the time they gave birth, not when they entered the hospital, making it difficult to exactly replicate the study, as it was not known how long the women had been in the hospital when their babies were born.
Problems caused by understaffing are certainly not limited to mothers and babies. By one estimate, there are 11,000 deaths in NHS hospitals each year as a result of understaffing. The British government has allocated additional funds to try to make it safer to enter the hospital on a weekend. Whether this happens in the U.S., where medical care is funded differently, remains unknown, as does the extent of the problem.