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Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said he will be willing to impose seven-day working on hospital doctors in England.
In a speech in London to the King's Fund, Mr Hunt said the "Monday to Friday culture" in some parts of the NHS had contributed to "tragic consequences" such as the 6,000 people avoidable deaths each year.
Currently, consultants in the NHS are able to opt out of any non-emergency weekend work, though many have to be on call in case they are needed. However, Mr Hunt - who has until September to strike a deal with the British Medical Association (BMA) - said he was prepared to enforce changes if necessary.
This would involve issuing different contracts to new consultants, but the BMA leader Dr Mark Porter accused Mr Hunt of being "too simplistic" and said other factors, such as a lack of resources, needed to be taken into consideration.
The health secretary thinks that, by ensuring all new consultants do not have the right to opt out, this will gradually build up enough senior doctors to boost healthcare standards at the weekend.
Although Mr Hunt has the authority to enforce such a change, it could risk jeopardising the relationship between the government and hospitals. The BMA has called the proposal a "wholesale attack on doctors".
Announcing a number of changes in his speech, Mr Hunt also wants a new regulator - called NHS Improvement - to host an Independent Patient Safety Investigation Service, which will work like the accident investigation branch used by the airline industry.
He also intends to make it a requirement for GPs to inform patients of the Care Quality Commission rating and waiting time data at hospitals they are being referred to, while there will also be a drive to increase takeup of new technology in health.
Written by Angela Newbury
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