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Working time directive costs lives, says study

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Cuts in doctors’ working hours to meet EU rules could be costing lives, a study by the Royal College of Surgeons has claimed.

Almost two-thirds of the 800 NHS surgeons questioned said they thought quality of care had worsened since the European working time directive.

The study said some doctors had been forced to break rules to maintain levels of care because the 48 hour working week limit has left hospitals so stretched.

RCS president John Black said: “We now have the ridiculous situation where the Department of Health in public moralises over fears that trainees are being coerced into working over 48 hours while privately relying on these doctors to stay longer or cover additional dead-end shifts as locums because there is no way the service could keep running otherwise.”

More than 100 hospital rotas have applied for permission to break the rules because they are so stretched, according to the study.

The Department of Health said it had received no evidence that the directive was not working.

A government spokeswoman said: “Hospitals such as the Homerton in London, which 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.”

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Readers' comments (2)

  • What I would like to see is a comparitive study based on junior doctors old working hours and the death rates then vs. new working hours and death rates, without such evidence the claims are mere subjective speculatioin

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  • "Questioning" surgeons who "think" that care is worse does not constitute evidence of anything other than feelings which may be based on fears of letting go of old ways of working more than anything. Let's have some actual evidence, based on hard facts before we make up our minds.

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