GMC warns over doctors’ working hours

Some doctors in training are tired and stressed because of their working patterns which could be putting patients at risk, the General Medical Council (GMC) warned today, 14th February 2013.

According to research commissioned by the GMC, some doctors may still be working nearly 100 hours a week during their busiest shifts – increasing the potential for mistakes.

The research was aimed at understanding the impact of the Working Time Regulations set by the European Union which are intended to promote health and safety by restricting the hours doctors work.

The study, based on the views of 82 trainee doctors, found that while the regulations had led to fewer hours, it had also produced more shift work, leaving some doctors suffering fatigue and acknowledging that there were times when they performed poorly.

Under the Working Time Regulations the UK’s 55,000 doctors in training should not be working more than 48-hours a week, averaged over 26 weeks. They are also bound by the New Deal regulations set by the UK government which were also designed to limit the hours they can work.

The study also found that among the respondents:

  • Most felt unable to challenge bad rotas and working practices.
  • Some reported not being able to take rest breaks or eat or drink during long shifts.
  • Working Time Regulations were not the sole cause of fatigue and its impact on patient safety – the researchers suggest doctors’ experiences cannot be isolated from other changes to medical education and the NHS.

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the GMC, said: ‘It is clear the current system is not working as it should – in some cases doctors are still too tired and there are issues around continuity and training opportunities. Given our responsibility for medical education and training across the UK, we will continue to work with the NHS, medical royal colleges and postgraduate deaneries to help address these problems to maintain and enhance the quality of training. We are also contributing to the independent review of postgraduate medical education currently being undertaken by Professor David Greenaway, Vice Chancellor of Nottingham University, to help address wider issues with postgraduate training.’

More information can be found on the GMC website.