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Don't get sick in August

death rates higher in August Hospital death rates highest

People needing emergency hospital treatment in the first week of August are at higher risk of dying, new research has found. And the influx of new medical staff may be the cause.

It's known that hospital death rates in emergency departments fluctuate throughout the year, with most deaths occurring in the winter.

But the results from this latest research show that death rates in the first Wednesday in August are 6% higher than the previous Wednesday - the time when junior doctors normally start their new jobs in hospitals.

In the biggest study of its kind, researchers from the Department of Acute Medicine at Imperial College London looked at data from nearly 300,000 patients admitted to 175 hospitals between 2000 and 2008.

The study did not analyse the causes of individual deaths. The researchers say further studies are needed before they can draw firm conclusions about why the apparent increase in mortality rates might be happening.

Dr Paul Aylin, who led the study, said: "We wanted to find out whether mortality rates changed on the first Wednesday in August, when junior doctors take up their new posts. What we have found looks like an interesting pattern and we would now like to look at this in more detail to find out what might be causing the increase."

Although the effect identified in the research is small, it is statistically significant and appears to be consistent over the nine years covered by the study.

"Our study does not mean that people should avoid going into hospital that week. This is a relatively small difference in mortality rates, and the numbers of excess deaths are very low. It's too early to say what might be causing it. It might simply be the result of differences between the patients who were admitted," added Dr Aylin.

The results are published in PLoS ONE.

This article was published on Wed 23 September 2009

Image © Timothy Large iStockPhoto

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