NHS Working Hours

A recent report in the British Medical Journal has warned that many doctors within the NHS are exhausted. A number of UK hospitals have reviewed shift patterns following the adoption of the EU Working Time Directive, and have found that many junior doctors were regularly working a 91-hour week as a series of night shifts.

Recent studies in the US have shown a 36% rise in serious medical errors caused by trainees working between 77 and 81 hours per week, compared to those working around 65 hours per week, with the risks increasing exponentially with each consecutive night shift worked.

The British Medical Journal has called for staffing patterns to be reassessed and staff scheduled for only a single or double night shift. It has also suggested that the NHS should follow the example of the aviation industry, which has introduced set sleep periods for crew flying overnight.

Dr Simon Eccles, chairman of the British Medical Association’s Junior Doctors’ Committee said that "the problem is not necessarily the Working Time Directive itself, but the way hospitals have responded to it". He also said that although the directive was implemented in order to reduce overall working hours, "moving everyone on to shifts is the only way to deal with the problems thrown up by the directive".

The NHS must now review its working practices in order to maximise doctors’ safety and efficiency, and to safeguard the interests of patients.

An efficient time and attendance system eliminates the problem of monitoring the work patterns of doctors and so ensures that those employees working difficult shift patterns or very long hours are noticed quickly. This enables changes to be made to work schedules, thus ensuring the safety of patients and doctors alike.

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