Junior Doctors Missing Out On Medical Training Due To The European Working Time Directive (EWTD)

Although there was widespread agreement from the medical community on the impact of the European Working Time Directive on medical training Sir John’s recommendations were called into question by a number of industry groups including the Royal College of Surgeons. In the report Sir John recommend that services needed to be revised so that Consultant Doctors worked more flexibly and were more \”directly responsible\” for patient care around the clock, leading to better quality of diagnosis, better decision making, and better patient outcomes and safety. However the President of the Royal College of Surgeons, John Black, said that \”We are relieved that this report openly acknowledges that the European Working Time Regulations have critically damaged medical training in the UK. However, we are deeply disappointed that the remedies proposed are unworkable. It is unrealistic to put training concerns above those of patients, and there are not the bottomless resources available to fund these proposals. The one obvious solution for the acute specialties – that of removing the EWTD itself – is not assessed at all.\”

What is the European Working Time Directive?

The European Working Time Directive (EWTD) ‘lays down the minimum requirements in relation to working hours, rest periods and annual leave’. The legislation became law in the UK on the 1st October 1998 as the ‘Working Time Regulations’ and although it applied to the vast majority of workers certain exceptions were made, including for doctors in training. In 2004 the EWTD provisions were extended to doctors in training and hours were reduced to a maximum 56 hours in August 2007 and a maximum 38 hours in August 2009.

The EWTD stipulates that workers must have:

  • 11 hours continuous rest in 24 hours
  • 24 hours continuous rest in 7 days (or 48 hrs in 14 days)
  • 20 minute break in work periods of over 6 hours
  • 4 weeks annual leave
  • (for night workers) an average of no more than 8 hours work in 24 over the reference period

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