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Doctor hours law 'failed patients', surgeons say

Category: Politics

Published: 1st Aug 2010 20:36:10

Patients' lives are being put at risk under European rules that cut the working hours of doctors, experts say.

The Royal College of Surgeons said creating a 48-hour limit on the working week had "failed spectacularly".

About 80% of 980 NHS surgeons and surgical trainees surveyed said care had worsened since the European Working Time Directive started last August.

A Department of Health spokesman said the way the directive was being applied was "clearly unsatisfactory".

To say the European Working Time Regulations has failed spectacularly would be a massive understatement”

The rules were designed to stop doctors working up to 80-hour weeks that were commonplace under the old system.

But the RCS - which surveyed surgeons and surgical trainees in all nine surgical specialties - warned the changes had left hospitals overstretched and much less safe than they were a year ago.

More than a quarter of senior surgeons said they were no longer able to be involved in all of the key stages of a patients' care, up from 18% in October 2009.

The survey also found two thirds of junior surgeons said their hours in training had been cut - a quarter more than a year ago.

More than 60% of consultants who used to do surgery assisted by trainees said they were now often forced to operate alone, while 45% of consultants and 37% of trainees reported "inadequate handovers".

In addition, more than half to those surveyed said they consistently worked more than the permitted hours because of stretched rotas.

RCS President John Black said surgeons not only thought patient safety was worse, but doctors' work and home lives were also poorer for it.

"To say the European Working Time Regulations has failed spectacularly would be a massive understatement.

"We will not go back to the past with tired doctors working excessive hours, but the way the directive now applies is clearly unsatisfactory”

"There is not a moment to lose in implementing a better system which would enable surgeons to work in teams, with fewer handovers and with the backup of senior colleagues," he said.

Charlie Giddings, president of the Association of Surgeons in Training, said "new innovative solutions" were needed, "rather than the minor short-term tweaks that artificially produced compliance at the expense of training and patient care".

Howard Cottam, president of the British Orthopaedic Trainees Association, said the directive had "largely failed" and the system "remained reliant on the professional integrity of trainees who continue to cover the gaps in the rota".

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "The health secretary will support the business secretary in taking a robust approach to future negotiations on the revision of the European Working Time Directive, including maintenance of the opt-out.

"We will not go back to the past with tired doctors working excessive hours, but the way the directive now applies is clearly unsatisfactory and is causing great problems for health services across Europe."

The survey covered all Strategic Health Authorities in England as well as surgeons based in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

The RCS said it endorsed calls for a working week of up to 65 hours - including time spent on-call - to provide the ideal balance between adequate training opportunities, good patient care and work-life balance.

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BBC News, 2010. Doctor hours law 'failed patients', surgeons say [Online] (Updated 1st Aug 2010)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/79000/Doctor-hours-law-failed-patients-surgeons-say [Accessed 28th Jul 2014]

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