NEW figures, released through a Freedom of Information request, show the number of deaths at East Lancashire’s hospitals was 26 per cent ‘above expected’ for weekend admissions last year, compared to 13 per cent ‘above expected’ for weekdays.

It comes as East Lancashire’s hospitals find themselves in the ‘impossible situation’ of having to recruit more staff while making savings of £85 million.

A long-awaited NHS report, which made wide-ranging criticisms of the the Royal Blackburn and Burnley General last week, said there was an urgent need for extra nursing and medical staff on the wards to ensure patient safety, but gave no indication of how they would be paid for.

The Keogh Report raised specific concerns around out-of-hours staffing levels, and the Lancashire Telegraph has obtained new data showing a spike in the ‘death rate’ for weekend admissions.

The new figures were for the Summary Hospital-level Mortality Indicator [SHMI], while data published last month under a separate measure, the Hospital Standardised Mortality Ratio (HSMR), also suggested an increase in deaths at weekends.

Russ McLean, chairman of the Patient Voices Group, said: “It’s all well and good the inspectors saying there are staff shortages, but I’d like to see where these funds are going to come from to bring in the extra staff.”

“You have to wonder whether the government are also to blame for the problems in East Lancs, due to a lack of investment. I want a proper explanation as to how these new recruits will be paid for, as the trust now seems to be in an impossible situation.”

Earlier this year board papers for East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust revealed how bosses were planning to axe 500 jobs in order to make enforced savings of £85 million.

Rineke Schram, the trust’s medical director, said: “You have to take mortality ratios with a pinch of salt, but I’m not saying we are not looking at whether there’s an issue around weekend care.”

Asked how the the new staff would be funded, including more than 60 nurses, she said: “That’s a very good question, there certainly isn’t any extra money coming in.

“But we need to put the patient experience and quality of staff first and we’ll just have to deal with it.

“It’s about making better use of the resources we have. We had to increase agency staff over the winter and it’s about using that money to recruit permanent staff and finding ways to look after more patients at home.”

When it was suggested that hospitals do not receive enough funding to provide the same level of care outside normal working hours, she said: “I wouldn’t disagree with that. I think the NHS does need to become a 24/7 organisation, but there’s a lot nationally which needs to change to enable that....I’m a doctor not a politician, it’s not my place to comment on the politics of it.”