30/07/2003

NI hospitals unlikely to meet junior doctors' hours deadline

Hospitals who fail to recognise new contractual rights for junior doctors are risking possible legal action, the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned today.

This Friday, limits on hours, minimum rest requirements and acceptable standards of accommodation, agreed over ten years ago, will become a contractual right for all junior doctors.

Trusts who do not comply could be stripped of posts and the BMA is examining avenues of legal redress for doctors working outside the limits whose trusts fail to take action to reduce their hours.

Commenting on the new rights, Dr Paul Devine, chairman of the BMA's NI Junior Doctors Committee, said: "We have continuously raised the serious issue of dangerously tired doctors treating patients. It's concerning and disappointing to see that, despite having known for the past 12 years this deadline was coming up, less than one third of trusts here have taken appropriate action to meet it.

"Nobody wants to see doctors being forced to take legal action but, because of the lack of preparation of some trusts, it could happen."

Under the terms of the 1991 New Deal, junior doctors should not be on their feet working for more than 56 hours a week, or do more than 72 hours of total work (including time spent on call). The limits were initially introduced as guidance and have applied to first year doctors since 2001 but they will now be contractually binding for all junior doctors.

In a year's time trusts will also have to comply with the first phase of the European Working Time Directive, which is even more stringent.

However, a BMA survey earlier this month showed that over half of senior house officers and registrars in the UK are still working above the 56-hour limit and almost a quarter are working over 70 hours a week. DHSSPS figures show that more than two thirds of trusts in Northern Ireland are not compliant with the New Deal and of the province's 1,361 junior doctors, only half are working within the terms of the New Deal.

The BMA is also concerned about the measures some trusts have taken in order to meet the deadline. The same survey showed that many doctors do not believe their hours are being monitored accurately and there have been instances of doctors being put under pressure to lie so that managers can be seen to meet the target.

(MB)

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