On 26th June 2019, I attended a round table meeting organised by Miles Briggs, MSP, in the Scottish Parliament, discussing making junior doctors’ working hours safe and improving NHS workplace support for staff. A number of MSPs participated, namely Miles Briggs, Monica Lennon, Alison Johnstone, Linda Fabiani, Bill Bowman, David Stewart, Michelle Ballantyne, Mark McDonald, and Alex Cole-Hamilton. Also in attendance were representatives from the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland, and Royal College of Nursing.
Mr Briggs gave me the opportunity to make a statement to the group. I described Lauren’s experience as a junior doctor and how chronic fatigue as a result of working long hours under great intensity, with too few breaks, was a common experience among medics. I explained that Governments and the NHS knew this, that the implementation of the 1998 Working Time Directive was defective, and that too many junior doctors continued to suffer from the fatigue the law was intended to prevent. I outlined my campaign’s objectives and acknowledged the welcome changes the Scottish Government had made to shift rotas, and my hope that the Expert Working Group under by Professor Cachia would set out how the Scottish Government’s commitment to achieve a 48-hour maximum working week would be realised. Finally, I asked for their support in holding the Scottish Government to account to make junior doctors’ working hours safer.
We are all aware that NHS staff face significant workload pressures, it’s such a constant feature, like background music that we’re aware of but don’t pay particular attention to. We know they work long hours, sometimes leaving hospital late in the evening and we see them return next day, ready to provide patient care, to look after our sick and to perform complex medical procedures. How often do we think of the impact this has on them as an individual? Do we ever consider how they’ve managed to get home safely, if they’ve seen family or friends, if they’re well-rested?
The consequences of the workload pressures on individuals in the NHS were clearly spelled out by two other participants. The first was an MSP’s researcher who had been a junior doctor for 2 years. She had to leave the profession after 2 years to regain her physical and mental well-being, such were her working conditions.
Another, Dr. Roopa McCrossan, an anaesthetist, stated that a study by her Association had shown that 57% of her trainee colleagues reported having either been involved in a road traffic accident or a near miss on their way to or from work. In response to their findings, the Association of Anaesthetists has launched a campaign ‘Help Fight Fatigue’ with the aim of fighting the culture of fatigue in hospitals. I urge everyone to support this campaign.
I was reminded of one of Dr. McCrossan’s colleagues, Dr. Ronak Patel, who was involved in a fatal crash on his way home after a nightshift. He was aged 33, and an experienced doctor, driving 40 miles home after his third nightshift. Many other junior doctors face lengthy commutes as many training programmes require them to work rotations in various hospitals. It is little wonder that so many tired medics have accidents when driving home.
Dr. Patel’s story can be found at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-suffolk-36767868
I am grateful to Miles Briggs and his staff for organising the event and to the MSPs who attended. I was particularly pleased that different political parties were represented as cross-party support is vital to the campaign.
Change will only be achieved through direct political pressure. So, write to MP, your MSP in Scotland, Assembly Member in Wales, and MLA in Northern Ireland and 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!
My speech is attached. Please read and share. Thank you for your support.