Experts from Imperial College, London, who analysed more than four million operations and over 27,000 deaths. Picture: Brenton Geach

London - It is common knowledge that one should avoid falling sick on a weekend, when senior doctors are off and hospitals are run by a skeleton staff.

Now researchers have found that the “curse of the weekend” extends backwards through the week - with death rates high following operations on Thursdays and Fridays.

A study has shown that patients undergoing routine surgery were at lowest risk if their operation was carried out on a Monday.

Death rates were 44 percent higher following operations on a Friday than at the beginning of the week, according to the first large study of the link between surgical mortality rates and the day of operation.

The risk increased each day from Monday to Friday with a sudden leap at the weekend. Surgery on Saturdays and Sundays carried an 82 percent higher mortality rate.

Experts from Imperial College, London, who analysed more than four million operations and over 27,000 deaths following surgery in England between 2008-09 and 2010-11, say the reasons are likely to be fewer staff with less experience caring for patients in the crucial 48 hours following surgery, when that stretches over the weekend.

The authors say: “Our hypothesis was that if there is a quality of care issue at the weekend then we would expect to see higher mortality at the weekend. Importantly we would also expect to see higher mortality in other patients who have their procedure just before the weekend and whose immediate post-operative period (where they are most vulnerable to serious complications) occurs over the weekend.”

The increased death rate was found in both high and low-risk operations and in a range of procedures including, chest, heart and abdominal surgery.

The findings, published online in the BMJ, could result in patients demanding admission early in the week leading to waiting list bottlenecks.

The poorer quality of health care at the weekend has worried officials.


A poll by the Royal College of Physicians found one in eight senior doctors feared for their patients at weekends. One respondent said: “ I often feel relieved on a Monday that nothing catastrophic has happened.” - The Independent