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Trainee NHS doctors being told to lie about long working hours

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NHS staff are being encouraged to lie about their hours to make trusts appear to be compliant with the European working time directive, according to figures seen exclusively by Health Service Journal.

Out of 31,360 trainee doctors responding to a question by the Postgraduate Medical Education and Training Board, one in 10 whose hours were compliant on paper said they were being asked to lie.

Respondents were asked whether their rotas were “compliant on paper”, regardless of the hours they actually worked. Then they were asked: “In this post, have you been asked to submit hours that are compliant with the directive, when the hours you actually work are NOT compliant?”

Among those whose hours were not officially compliant, the proportion saying they were asked to lie rose to nearly one in six.

The findings show the huge pressure trusts are under to ensure junior doctors work no longer than 48 hours a week by the directive’s August deadline.

Last week, HSJ revealed strategic health authorities were predicting that a third of hospital rotas risked missing the deadline.

By tomorrow, SHAs must have told the Department of Health which services should be allowed to opt out.

Worthing Hospital director of medical education Gordon Caldwell said: “The financial penalties to trusts are so huge they cannot afford to be seen to fail, even if they are failing.

“In a profession where we value honesty, the policing system for [the directive] does not encourage honesty.”

He said his trust would not encourage junior doctors to lie and said the national figures revealed the poor standard of relationships between managers and junior doctors, who often feel that even if they recorded the truth nothing would be done about it.

British Medical Association junior doctors committee deputy chair Johann Malawana said too much attention had been placed on engaging senior clinicians, at the expense of less experienced doctors. “There are lots of clinicians in very senior leadership positions but trainees need to get much more involved,” he said.

“However NHS trusts are not necessarily facilitating that, for example by giving them protected time to go to departmental management meetings about how services are delivered.”

The survey backed up anecdotal evidence that trainees were being asked by managers to falsify their working hours on official forms, he said.

“Pressure is being brought to bear from management. The DH is… seeing non compliance as a very good indicator of poor management at trusts,” he said.

However Richard Marks, policy director at junior doctors campaign group Remedy UK, said junior doctors would sometimes choose to lie about their hours because they disagreed with the directive, believing it was disruptive to training.

The survey also shows 9 per cent of trainees feel they are being bullied at work. Of these, 3 per cent said the bullying came from managers, 43 per cent said consultants and 13 per cent attributed it to “the whole culture at work”.

Workloads had improved from 37 to 51, on a scale of one to 100, where 100 is the most balanced workload possible.

The annual survey was completed by 42,714 trainee doctors between January and February this year.

The Postgraduate Medical Education and Training Board is carrying out a detailed analysis of the data, to be published shortly.

Junior doctors’ responses

  • 10% of trainee doctors told to lie to make their hours compliant with European working time directive
  • 9% of trainee doctors being bullied
  • 43% of bullied trainees say the main source of bullying is consultants
  • 13% of those being bullied blamed ‘the whole culture at work
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