Hospitals fear impact of working-hour limit

By Alex Stevenson

Funding to help hospitals cope with working-hours limits for doctors to be introduced next year is not reaching the frontline, it has been claimed.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned the £100 million made available in 2008 to help compliance with the European Working Time Directive (EWTD) is not getting through.

The EWTD caps junior doctors’ working time to 48 hours a week. At present it is estimated 46 per cent currently working beyond this level.

Breaching the directive after it comes into force on August 1st 2009 will result in hospitals being open to fines of up to £5,000 but the BMA fears many hospitals are unsure about how to access the funding or are not receiving it.

With funding to increase to £300 million in 2009 it wants the government to ensure the money gets through.

Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the BMA’s consultants committee, described the change to junior doctors’ hours as “probably the biggest challenge hospitals will face in 2009”.

“It will need focused consultant expansion and change towards consultant based care,” he said.

“Hospitals need to be fully prepared as early as possible to minimise disruption to services and maintain high quality patient care.

“It’s crucial that funding to help them is protected, and that it reaches the front line.”

The BMA has written to health minister Ann Keen asking why difficulties are being encountered.

It is also concerned about the impact the EWTD will have on doctors’ training. It recommends increasing the number of consultants and using ‘intelligent bleep systems’ designed to help doctors increase efficiency by prioritising calls.