29/07/2004

BMA warns NHS trusts over junior doctors' hours

With the deadline for legal limits on junior doctors' hours only three days away, the BMA today warned that it is ready to support overworked doctors who decide to take legal action.

This Sunday the European Working Time Directive, which has covered most UK workers since 1998, will be applied to doctors in training for the first time. They will be protected against working more than 58 hours a week and entitled to 11 hours of rest in every 24 hour period.

Commenting on the forthcoming directive, Dr Tony Glackin, Deputy Chairman of the BMA's Junior Doctors Committee in NI, said: "Trusts in Northern Ireland are aware that from 1st August junior doctors will be able to take legal action against them if they do not comply with the directive.

"The BMA in Northern Ireland will continue to work with the DHSSPS to help achieve EWTD compliance. However, less than three-quarters of Trusts here are ready for the 1 August deadline and this could very well lead to junior doctors suing them for breach of the directive."

Each time hospitals breach the directive for individual doctors they will be liable to fines of up to £5,000 from the Health and Safety Executive.

They could also be taken to employment tribunals by junior doctors, who will have the full support of the BMA.

Dr Glackin added: "It has to be remembered that this legislation is not optional for countries within the EU. It is being implemented in order to remove the unsafe excessive hours of work long associated with doctors in training. This is good legislation for both patients and doctors."

In addition to supporting individual doctors, the BMA said it is prepared to name and shame trusts who allow the new limits to reduce the quality of training. In many hospitals the impetus to cut hours has resulted in fresh approaches to working patterns that have driven up standards.

However, the majority of hospitals have simply introduced shift systems, which require doctors to work for long stretches of up to 13 hours. Where such systems are used to staff hospitals at night, trainees are often left without adequate supervision, and without being exposed to work that increases their knowledge.

Simon Eccles, Chairman of the BMA's Junior Doctors Committee (UK), concluded: "We shouldn't forget that junior doctors are in hospitals to learn as well as look after patients. Safe hours must not mean unsafe training."

(MB)

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