Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS Medical Director for England, is insistent that the provision of seven-day services across the National Health Service is his “number one priority”.

Speaking at an NHS Improving Quality event in London, Sir Bruce told delegates that “we all know in our heart of hearts the service we offer at weekends isn’t as good, and we have to tackle that and do the right thing.How quickly you have your scan and your tests, or start your treatment, shouldn’t depend on how sick you are or when you turn up”.

He went on to say that “speaking personally, the provision of services at weekends remains my number one priority”.

There has been criticism in some quarters about the practical implications of the plan, unveiled at the end of last year, but Sir Bruce said “we have got to stop talking about ‘seven day working’, where the emphasis is on the people delivering the service. We have to talk about ‘seven day services’ and focus on the people receiving the services”.

“This is about how and not about why,” he added. “The two how questions are: how much is this going to cost? And how are we going to do it? The answers are beginning to emerge.”

Sir Bruce went on to claim that “the movement has started. There is talk among patients, the public, the media and the health industry. We want to move the NHS in the right direction. We know in the work we have done already that we are able to find the solutions for providing services at weekends. This is the most exciting challenge we have faced in the last decade, and if we get it right it will make us a world leader”.

At the event, representatives of the 13 ‘early adopter’ communities spoke about how they are improving access every day of the week. One of them, Gavin Boyle, chief executive of Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said that “we’re at the start of a journey and it’s a huge challenge [but] this is a chance for us to put it right. Seven day services matters – it’s the right thing to do”.

Ann Driver, NHSIQ’s head of programmes for seven day services and acute care, praised the early adopters for “putting their heads above the parapet”, adding that “we are getting more and more people asking how they can get involved”.