All hospitals in England will have consultants on duty seven days a week by 2020 under a future Conservative government, David Cameron is to pledge.
At the Tories’ spring conference, the PM will say more hospitals must provide top-level treatment at the weekend, starting with emergency care.
The move, aimed at cutting weekend mortality rates, builds on plans set out by health service managers.
Labour said Tory plans for “extreme” spending cuts threatened the NHS.
It has put the health service at the forefront of its own election campaign, with leader Ed Miliband promising on Friday to cap the amount of profit private firms can make from the NHS in England.
Speaking at the conference in Manchester, Mr Cameron will focus on access to healthcare in hospitals, warning that figures show patients are “more likely to die” if they are admitted at the weekend.
Official studies suggest mortality rates for those admitted on Sundays and Saturdays are 16% and 11% higher respectively than those admitted on Wednesdays.
While Mr Cameron will praise hospitals already providing top-level weekend services, he will say coverage is often patchy, with some key resources “not up and running and key decision-makers not always there”.
Hospitals across England, he will say, should be expected to offer consultant-level services at the weekend, particularly in accident and emergency, and in supporting urgent care services such as diagnostics.
Mr Cameron will say: “For years it has been too hard to access the NHS out of hours.
“But illness does not respect working hours. Heart attacks, major accidents, babies – these things don’t just come from nine to five.
“With a future Conservative government, we would have a truly seven-day NHS. Already millions of people can see a GP seven days a week but by 2020 I want this for everyone… [to be] the first country in the world to make it happen.”
This, he will say, will reduce the anxiety for patients and help the NHS to meet the growing demand from an ageing population.
It will also relieve the pressure on junior doctors at weekends while maximising the use of equipment and facilities, the PM will add.
Andy Burnham, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said the plans were not credible without investment in extra NHS staff.
“At the last election, David Cameron promised seven-day NHS services in his manifesto. Five years on, he’s making the same promise again,” he said.
“With the NHS in increasing financial distress, David Cameron must set out clearly how it will be paid for. His extreme plans for spending cuts will mean they won’t be able to protect the NHS.”
Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS’s medical director, has said the case for seven-day healthcare is “absolutely compelling, both clinically and morally”.
New clinical standards set out in 2013 require hospitals to provide seven-day access to diagnostic tests, such as X-rays, ultrasound, MRI scans and pathology, as well as providing access to multi-disciplinary teams, which include expert nurses and physiotherapists.
In its blueprint for services over the next five years, published last October, NHS England said hospital patients should have access to seven-day services by 2020 – “where this makes a clinical difference to outcomes”.
At the same time, NHS England warned the health service could face an £8bn shortfall in funding by 2020.
The Conservatives have pledged to guarantee a real-term increase in funding for the NHS during the next Parliament, extending the ring-fence in place for the past five years. Labour has said it will spend £2.5bn more than its opponents.