Published On: Tue, Mar 19th, 2013

Exhausted junior doctors working 100 hours a week are putting patients’ lives at risk

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Patients are being put at risk, as exhausted junior doctors work for 100 hours a week, a new report suggests.

Many training doctors are ‘tired and stressed’ because of shift patterns which flout European laws on working hours, according to the General Medical Council (GMC).

Some of the 55,000 junior doctors are working double the legal limit of 48 hours a week.

“There are still long shifts, and long weeks, with many indicating they could still work up to 100 hours in a single week, and runs of 12 days at work – includingsome 13 hour shifts – not being unusual,” the report stated.

While some of the junior doctors questioned by Durham University researchers said that the regulations had led to fewer working hours, the rules had produced more shift work – leavingsome medics suffering fatigue.

Researchers, who interviewed 82 training doctors from across the UK about their working habits, suggest that many hospitals are relying on doctors in training to provide care and treatment, without adequate supervision from senior colleagues.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said: “It is clear the current system is not working as it should – insome cases, doctors are still too tired and there are issues around continuity and training opportunities.

“We must never go back to the ridiculous hours worked in the past, when patients were routinely put at risk by exhausted young doctors, but the current system is too complex and the way it is implemented far from satisfactory.”

Dr Ben Molyneux, chair of the British Medical Association’s junior doctor committee, added: “Badly designed, understaffed rotas can leave junior doctors doing long stretches of night shifts, with fewer training opportunities.

“There is clear evidence that tired people are more likely to make mistakes and so it is essential that this problem is addressed.The solution does not lie in increasing working hours.There is clear evidence that long working hours increas the potential for doctors to make mistakes.”

He added that the union was in ‘exploratory talks’ with the NHS Employers organisation about junior doctors’ terms and conditions.

Dean Royles, director of NHS Employers, said: “Excessive working hours are detrimental to doctors and affect the quality of the care they give, so it’s important we work together to produce an outcome that enables them to work efficiently and to the best of their ability.

“Improvements to the junior doctors’ contract, in particular, could greatly benefit both staff and their patients.

“The services the NHS provides and the way it provides them have changed significantly since the contract was initially drawn and as a result, it is no longer fit for purpose.

“A renegotiated junior doctors’ contract could simplify processes, increase the focus on patients, enhance training opportunities and achieve less rigid shift patterns.”

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Exhausted junior doctors working 100 hours a week are putting patients’ lives at risk