Thursday, 5 February 2009

Doctors. Their hours. The ten year lag.

Posted by Dr. Thunder

So, this week the Department of Health in the UK announced that they won't be implementing the European Working Time Directive (EWTD) for junior doctors anytime in the next few years.

The EWTD is a piece of European legislation that seeks to offer employees protection from overwork and exhaustion. The aim was to have no person being required to work more than 48 hours per week.

Now, the UK department of health has asked for a FURTHER extentsion (doctors have already been way behind the rest of the workforce in terms fo their entitlements for years). Despite having a decade to prepare for the implementation of this legislation, the department say that they can't meet the requirement.

With the farcical new method of selecting doctors in britain, many have moved overseas to get better training. In the same breath, the authorities have made it extremely difficult for overseas doctors to come and work in the UK.

And they wonder why there's a problem,?

The interesting thing is that both the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Physicians (doctors' representative groups) have supported the delay in it's implementation. Bizzarre. I think this is because a lot of the old school doctors who run these organisations believe that the juniors SHOULD spend most of their best years working.

I call shenanigans on that. I think medicine is a job. It's a privileged job, but it's a job nonetheless. More importantly, it's a job where cockups are not acceptable. It's difficult to reconcile this with the long hours culture that exists within our ranks.

I think we should treat our young doctors like we treat our pilots. Pilots have a limited number of hours they can work in a year. 

When I get older, I'll be much happier when the guy about to cardiovert me has had his full 8 hours sleep, and statutory lunch break!

In Ireland, things are worse, as per usual. Though the Health Service Executive (HSE), who are responsible for the "running" of the irish health system, are clinging to the hope that their junior docs will be working a 48 hour week by june 2009.

Now, we all know this is either a crock of balls, or they have something up their sleeve that will allow them to fudge the figures, much like they do in the UK.

The HSE are talking about getting around the law by not counting "inactive" hours as "work" when a  doctor is on-call. If anyone thinks this will reduce the official hours tally, then they clearly have NEVER done an on-call shift in an acute specialty.

I don't kow what the solution is right now. I know that the Irish and UK authorities and unions have had about 10 years notice of these changes, but they've not prepared themselves.

I know it won't be the people responsible for this mess who'll be working the extra hours, and spending less time with their families because of it, though.

Dr. Thunder


  1. As a current medical doctor I feel it is great for the junior doctors to spend their early years in full action. That is the route that I took, and I will never forget it.

  2. I genuinely believe that we need a stronger argument than "I did it" to make our junior doctors give up many of the best years of our life working shifts that are up to 72 hours long.

    Dr. Thunder