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Patient deaths blamed on EU working time directive

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Careless practice and an EU directive are causing unnecessary deaths in hospitals across the UK, a patient care report has warned.

The government-funded investigation, the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death, highlights inadequate shift handovers, delays in contacting consultants and inadequate communication between doctors as particularly worrying.

Report authors claimed that there had been “a clinically important delay” in contacting consultants in 25% of the 1,635 deaths covered by the report.

The EU working time directive, which came into force in August this year and limits the amount of hours a doctor can legally work, is heavily criticised by the investigation, with researchers claiming the drive had disrupted continuity between shifts and lowered the standard of patient care.

Acknowledging that changing the directive would be difficult if not impossible, the report calls for the development of alternative ways of dealing with the issues it highlights.

“Unless there is evidence underpinning a political will to challenge the directive through the European parliament, other mechanisms must be developed in order to address the lack of continuity of out-of-hours care and the availability of appropriately trained staff, 24 hours a day,” the report said.

However, a Department of Health spokesman said: “Hospitals such as the Homerton in London, who have been working a 48 hour week for over two years, have produced evidence that shows the change has decreased hospital mortality. There is no evidence of harm being caused to patients.

“In fact PMETB, the independent regulator responsible for junior doctor training, said there is evidence the European Working Time Directive (EWTD) improves patient safety but little evidence that it reduces the quality of training,” he added.

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