Patients who undergo elective surgery over the weekend are at a higher risk of dying from surgical complications, compared to those who undergo surgery on a weekday. The results of a new analysis published in the British Medical Journal indicates weekend patients are up to 82% more likely to die after their surgery, compared to patients who have the surgery on a Monday.

The key to this staggeringly high rate of fatalities after surgery during a weekend could be the levels of postoperative care after the surgery. The quality of care after the surgery is critical in the days after the operation. In fact, the first 48 hours after surgery are considered extremely important for surgery patients. It is very likely this reduced quality of care is due to the fewer skilled medical personnel, including doctors as well as nurses, in a hospital during weekends, which affects the quality of care.

Researchers have known about the “weekend effect” for many years now. The term is often used to refer to a phenomenon in which a patient has a much higher risk of dying when he or she is admitted to an emergency room on a weekend, compared to a week day. That weekend effect also seems to be manifest when a patient is due for elective surgery.

Researchers analyzed data derived from the National Health System in the United Kingdom along with British fatality data and focused on those fatalities that occurred within 30 days of the operation. More than 4.1 million elective procedures between 2008 and 2009 and 2010 and 2011 were considered as part of the analysis. These include approximately 28,000 fatalities that resulted from the surgery.