Coalition restless over working hours cap

By staff

EU rules preventing doctors working more than 48 hours are “clearly unsatisfactory”, the Department of Health has said.

It came after the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) published a survey yesterday showing the damaging impact the working time directive (WTD) was having on patient safety and training.

The WTD, which came into force last August, prevents doctors working over 48 hours in a week. Many had previously worked for up to 80 hours a week.

According to the RCS’ research, 80% of consultant surgeons and two-thirds of surgical trainees said patient care had deteriorated under the directive.

Sixty-five per cent of trainees said their training time had decreased, while 41% of consultants and 37% of trainees reported ‘inadequate handovers’.

“To say the European working time regulations has failed spectacularly would be a massive understatement,” RCS president John Black said.

“Despite previous denial by the Department of Health (DoH) that there was a problem, surgeons at all levels are telling us that not only is patient safety worse than it was before the directive, but their work and home lives are poorer for it.”

A DoH spokesperson said health secretary Andrew Lansley would back business secretary Vince Cable in taking a “robust approach to future negotiations”.

He added: “We will not go back to the past with tired doctors working excessive hours, but the way the directive now applies is clearly unsatisfactory and is causing great problems for health services across Europe.”

Mr Black said there was “not a moment to lose” for the new government to implement a better system.

This, he added, “would enable surgeons to work in teams, with fewer handovers and with the backup of senior colleagues”.