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Cap on doctors' working hours could mean nurses take over senior roles

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New European working time laws for hospitals that come into effect in August could create senior roles for nurses who need to ‘fill in’ for doctors, according to the RCN.

The issue was raised at the college’s council meeting in London last week, where members urged it to lobby employers to use the changes to provide nurses with a chance to develop their careers.

The European Working Time Directive caps the amount of hours doctors are allowed to work per week to 48 hours. This is likely to mean trusts place greater emphasis on multi-disciplinary teams who are capable of dealing with patient events in the absence of a doctor.

The new shift patterns necessary to become compliant with the directive are likely to be based on rotas laid out in Hospital at Night schemes that are currently in operation at some NHS hospitals. They rely on multidisciplinary teams, including senior nurses, to cover for doctors when they are taking time out to sleep.

Stacey Hunter, RCN council member for Yorkshire and Humber, said: ‘We should be seeing this in term of the benefits of this from the perspective of nursing development.

‘I work in an organisation that went working time directive compliant a year early. It gives a lot of opportunities for nurses to take on work that is done already under Hospital at Night. We want to be lobbying to maximise these opportunities,’ she said.

Gerry Bolger, council member for London, called on managers to support the career development of senior nurses so they could take on the level of work required in such situations. ‘Trusts should be supporting that grade of nursing work,’ he said.

A pilot study in a hospital already complying with the cap, published in the Quarterly Journal of Medicine last month, showed that reducing doctors’ working hours cut medical errors by a third compared with a traditional rota.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Seriously, is there really any point in a doctor being in a hospital anymore?

    Nurses have taken over a lot of the junior doctors roles already and are taking over more and more as time goes on.

    The only thing nurses are not getting out of this is a junior doctors status and pay.

    It is about time our toothless union stood up and did something about this. Yes on one hand it is an excellent move for nurses who are becoming increasingly skilled and autonomous as a profession, BUT if we are going to do the work, we damn well want the status and the pay for it.


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