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EU law affecting patient safety

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European laws brought in to improve patient safety and the working lives of doctors “failed spectacularly”, according to surgeons.

Patients in NHS hospitals are in fact much less safe than they were a year ago, and the situation is getting worse, according to a survey from the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS).

It was published on the first anniversary of the implementation of the European working time directive (EWTD), which limit doctors to 48 hours a week.

The survey of 980 surgeons and surgical trainees covered all nine surgical specialities and all strategic health authorities in England as well as surgeons based in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and compared responses to a similar survey undertaken last year.

It reveals that 80 per cent of consultant surgeons and two thirds of surgical trainees (66%) say that patient care deteriorated under the directive. This compares with 72% of consultants and 59% of trainees consulted in October 2009.

Two thirds of trainees say their training time decreased - a quarter more than in October 2009 (41%).

More than a quarter of senior surgeons are no longer able to be involved in all of the key stages of a patient’s care (18% in October 2009).

Two thirds of trainees reported a decline in training time in the operating theatre and 61 per cent of consultants report that they are operating without trainee assistance more frequently since the EWTD was introduced.

The RCS said the survey paints a picture of an NHS that, one year on, “is still totally overstretched due to an arbitrary hours regulation”.

RCS president John Black said: “The new government have indicated they share our concerns, but there is not a moment to lose in implementing a better system which would enable surgeons to work in teams, with fewer hand overs and with the backup of senior colleagues.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “The health secretary will support the business secretary in taking a robust approach to future negotiations on the revision of the European Working Time Directive, including maintenance of the opt-out.

“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.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I'm surprised at Nursing Times giving room to this rubbish.

    The survey is completely biased and not objective at all as the RCS were opposed to the changes and they are just trying to justify their position. Where is the objective - measurable - proof?

    Since the RCS had a decade to make the changes needed to accommodate these hours and sat on their hands. Remember the hours were reduced to forty-eight; we work 37.5.

    Why not train a few Surgical Care Practitioners to free up the juniors to spend a bit more time in theatre?

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