The NHS and Governments have had since 1998 to implement the Working Time Directive to prevent junior doctors from experiencing the chronic fatigue the law was intended to prevent. They have not done so properly. Theirs is a 20-year record of prevarication and derogation, allowing the NHS to exempt groups of doctors from this health and safety legislation. They may have applied the law in a strict legal sense but have ignored its spirit.
The Scottish Government says that junior doctors’ working hours are safe and that all rotas comply fully with the Working Time Directive. They assert this based on averaging the hours in planned rotas over 26 weeks combined with the periodic sampling of the actual hours a junior doctor works. But this ignores the reality of junior doctors routinely working in excess of planned hours and the fact that rotas can contain peaks of prolonged working, during which fatigue can accumulate to dangerous levels.
For many years, junior doctors have reported these facts in annual surveys. More than 50 per cent work longer than planned and 20 per cent have stated that their working patterns left them feeling short of sleep when at work. Yes, that’s right, when at work and responsible for patient care! They have also described various techniques used by the NHS to pressure them to misrepresent the hours they work during the sampling periods.
All of the evidence which supports this is available and known to Governments and the NHS (Scotland and UK-wide) but they have taken no effective action to eliminate the chronic fatigue too many doctors experience and to make their working hours safe.
I’ve been campaigning for the last 7 years to reduce junior doctors’ working hours from their excessive and dangerously high levels. I believe that implementation of the Working Time Directive in spirit as well as law will have a major beneficial impact on the working lives of junior doctors and will also result in improved patient care.
In the document linked to this blog, I summarise some of the evidence I’ve gathered. It shows the extent of the information available to Governments and the NHS about the effects of long working hours on junior doctors and how they can claim compliance with the Working Time Directive through statistical sleight of hand. It also shows the benefits to doctors themselves and the improvements to patient care which will result from doctors being well rested.
I believe the case for making junior doctors’ working hours safe to be incontrovertible. The Scottish Government agrees and has committed to deliver a 48-hour maximum working week for junior doctors, which is the intent of the Working Time Directive. They haven’t said when they will do this so I’m determined to do what I can to ensure that they fulfil this promise. I ask for your support in my campaign, to write to your MSP to hold the Scottish Government to account to make junior doctors’ working hours safe.
People in the rest of the UK deserve to have their health care provided by well rested doctors. I ask you to write to your MP, Assembly Member, and MLA to put pressure on them to make junior doctors’ working hours safe.
We must end the national scandal of overworked and chronically fatigued junior doctors – NOW!