Working hours pledge scrapped is a blow

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It was disappointing to read this week that a promise to reduce junior doctors working hours in the wake of the death of a young medic killed in a car crash on her way home from work looks set to be scrapped.

Health secretary Shona Robison has reportedly revealed that the goal of reducing junior doctors’ hours to 48 hours a week, without averaging, was now “unachievable”.

According to reports in the Herald and Sunday Times, the health secretary, made the admission in a letter to Brian Connelly, whose daughter Lauren Connelly died in 2011 as she drove home after a 12-hour nightshift at Inverclyde Royal Hospital.

Her father has since exposed the onerous shift patterns which she had worked which included ten and 12-day stretches.

The European Time Directive sets a limit of a 48-hour working week but NHS Boards can average the number of hours worked per week over six months. It means junior doctors find themselves working increasingly longer hours sometimes as many 90-100 hour weeks between days off or annual leave.

The excessive hours means that while they are trying to save the lives of others they are putting their own health and safety at risk. The jump from doing medicine at university to going into hospital treating seriously ill patients is huge, so not only is it a mentally demanding job but emotional and physical one too.

Doctors are often expected to work one or two hours outwith their contracted hours each day and a break to have lunch is seemingly a luxury few can afford as the demands placed on them means they are often struggling to cope with the workload.

Of course the issue is resources with a huge strain being placed on a stretched NHS with vacant slots across the board, but the working hours pledge being scrapped is a blow to common sense.