Thursday, 5 August 2010

Less time off please.

What kind of people would ask to be allowed to work 80 hour weeks? Doctors apparently. This comes as a review is set up about the impact of the European Working Time Directive that limits people to 48 hours a week unless they specifically opt out.

The idea was to get rid of the 80-100 hour weeks that were commonplace for junior surgeons and led to extreme tiredness and was deemed dangerous as they could be involved in patient care whilst not mentally fit. The problem now, a large number of doctors feel the new limit is too low, stops them training as much as they need and has led to patient safety fears as there is less follow-up and more disorganised handovers.

It seems that there certainly is a problem with how its being implemented at the moment, when 80% of surgeons and the Royal College says its been a massive failure then surely its time to have a second look. In the ideal world you would have a set-up which allowed doctors to have sufficient training and patient contact whilst still having enough time off to have a good work-life balance and not be dangerously tired on the job. That kind of balance might be harder to find than you'd think though.

First of all, we need to change how training and work hours are structured, I don't think you can expect to keep the same kind of structures in place for such a massive slash in hours worked. If Denmark and other countries can manage to cope with working weeks under 45 hours then I'm sure the NHS can cope with this change. Not to say what works in Denmark will work here, but lets no assume the number of hours worked is the only variable here.

Maybe another idea would be what the Royal College has endorsed, a 65-hour week including time on call. The exact figure would be flexible but its certainly worth looking at other ways around including time on call which would let people have all the time they need 'hands-on' that they need to be a good, reliable doctor.

Personally, 100 hour weeks sound pretty scary so I certainly wouldn't want things to go back to how they were. Medicine will be a big part of my life, but not the whole of it.

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