Protocol for the health economic evaluation of increasing the weekend specialist to patient ratio in hospitals in England
This protocol concerns the evaluation of increased specialist staffing at weekends in hospitals in England. Seven-day health services are a key policy for the UK government and other health systems trying to improve use of infrastructure and resources. A particular motivation for the 7-day policy has been the observed increase in the risk of death associated with weekend admission, which has been attributed to fewer hospital specialists being available at weekends. However, the causes of the weekend effect have not been adequately characterised; many of the excess deaths associated with the ‘weekend effect’ may not be preventable, and the presumed benefits of improved specialist cover might be offset by the cost of implementation.
The Bayesian-founded method we propose will consist of four major steps. First, the development of a qualitative causal model. Specialist presence can affect multiple, interacting causal processes. One or more models will be developed from the results of an expert elicitation workshop and probabilities elicited for each model and relevant model parameters. Second, systematic review of the literature. The model from the first step will provide search limits for a review to identify relevant studies. Third, a statistical model for the effects of specialist presence on care quality and patient outcomes. Fourth, valuation of outcomes. The expected net benefits of different levels of specialist intensity will then be evaluated with respect to the posterior distributions of the parameters.
The study was approved by the Review Subcommittee of the South West Wales REC on 11 November 2013. Informed consent was not required for accessing anonymised patient case records from which patient identifiers had been removed. The findings of this study will be published in peer-reviewed journals; the outputs from this research will also form part of the project report to the HS&DR Programme Board.