version 4, draft 4

Limits on British Doctors Hours Under Review

The impact of the European Working Time Directive (EWTD) on the National Health Service (NHS) of the UK will undergo an independent review by experts as there are worries that the restrictions on doctors hours will put patients at risk.  According to the directive, doctors hours are limited to a 48-hour work week instead of long working weeks of 70 or 80 hours or more in the NHS.

Why surgeons worry over the new rule

The Royal College of Surgeons and others support that these limits will practically mean less surgeon involvement in all aspects of patient care, while the quality of training for medical students will fall.

The Telegraph states that studies have found that two thirds of junior surgeons have less training under the new system, whereas senior consultants have claimed that the changes have damaged the character of medicine, and created “a generation of clock watchers”.

The rules have also caused staff shortages in many specialties, especially in Accident & Emergency units, and had a huge financial impact on the NHS, not to mention hospital closures.

In at least 20 cases where casualty or maternity units have closed or closures had been planned since 2009, NHS officials have referred to the directive as a factor in the decision.

Review is inevitable

There is definitely a need for examining the impact of the regulations on the delivery of patient care and the training of the next generation of doctors. The taskforce composed by an array of clinicians will come up with a set of recommendations with the aim of enhancing doctors’ contracts and improving patient care.

It is then vital to look at how and to what extent working patterns affect patient safety and stability of care, and whether there is a potential margin for improvement.

Moreover, emphasis should also be placed upon junior doctors’ training. Will the EU rule affect their reserved time for learning and personal development?   

Well, nobody wants to return to the bad old days when doctors used to work excessive hours and went back home half-dead, but when clinicians themselves say that the directive harms patient safety and doctors’ training, I don’t think there is another way out other than taking another look at it!


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