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58 working week will ground hospitals to a halt UK doctors unable to treat off shore patients at night

August 2nd, 2004

Hospitals in crisis after doctors win cut in hours
The NHS was plunged into chaos last night as new limits on doctors’ working hours raised the threat of widespread ward closures across Britain.  Maternity and children’s units face the worst problems as hospitals desperately struggle to cope with the latest barrage of red tape from Brussels.  The EU Working Time Directive, which came into force for junior doctors yesterday, means they are allowed to work only 58 hours a week…The Government admitted last night that some hospitals were unable to reach “full compliance” with the regulations. Trusts face fines of up to £5,000 if they do not comply.
(Daily Express, 2 August 2004, page 1 + 4)

Work rules damage NHS
Strict new European rules limiting the hours worked by junior hospital doctors come into force today. Like many of the regulations emanating from Brussels, the Working Time Directive probably started life with best possible intentions but it may end up making matters much worse for the struggling NHS.  Everyone agrees that it would be better for trainee doctors and their patients if they didn’t have to work so long.  But this cannot be changed at the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen.
(Daily Express, 2 August 2004)

Lives at risk as EU cuts doctors’ hours – (But will we be alone in enforcing the rules?)
EU rules which slash the number of hours doctors can work could put lives at risk in British hospitals.  But it appeared last night that Britain may be the only country to enforce them. A new clause in the European Working Time Directive dictates that junior doctors work no more than 58 hours a week…Yet last night it seemed that few of our major European partners intended to adhere to the diktat.  Doctors in France, Germany and Italy said their health services would grind to a halt if they enforced the 58-hour rule.
(Daily Mail, 2 august 2004, page 4)

Only 58 hours a week?  When member states, including the UK, extended EU working time law to cover junior doctors, they were protecting both the medics themselves and their patients.  The British Medical Association supports the new rules and, on the day these articles appeared, its website was quite clear why: 
“It remains the opinion of the BMA that tired doctors often do not work to their full potential. Studies have shown that the effects of sleep deprivation are similar to the effects of alcohol consumption on driving performance. It is important that the working hours of junior doctors continue to be reduced to sensible levels so that a safe, high quality service can be provided for patients.”    
In any case, the “stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen” condemned by the Daily Express is actually a legislative process that UK Commissioners, MEPs, civil servants, and ministers have been involved in for more than 14 years.  The original Working Time Directive was proposed in 1990, adopted as long ago as 1993, and extended to cover doctors in training in 2000.  So member states have had four years to implement this alleged “latest barrage” or “new clause”.
The Daily Mail can rest assured that the Commission has an obligation to check whether the rules are in operation across all member states.  Yet in the UK ensuring junior doctors do not suffer from the effects of overwork might not be as crisis-inducing as the reports suggest.  Tucked away  in  the very last paragraph of the Daily Express article a  Department of Health spokeswoman was quoted as  saying:   “The   overwhelming   majority  of  trusts have reached full compliance (with the directive).”

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Please note that all statements in all entries were correct on the date of publication given. However, older archived posts are not systematically updated in the light of later developments, for example changes to EU law.

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