BMA ready to take legal action to enforce EU directive

With
the deadline for legal limits on junior doctors’ hours only three days away,
the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that it is ready to support
overworked doctors who decide to take legal action.

This
Sunday (1 August), the European Working Time Directive, which has covered most
UK workers since 1998 – will be applied to doctors in training for the first
time. 

The
directive introduces a maximum 58-hour working week (falling to 48 hours in 2009),
as well as new minimum rest requirements.

Simon
Eccles, chairman of the BMA’s Junior Doctors Committee, said: "This is
health and safety legislation. It’s being introduced to protect patients as
well as doctors, and hospitals need to take it seriously.

"Where
the directive is flouted, the BMA will provide doctors with information,
advice, and where appropriate, legal support," he said.

Each
time hospitals breach the directive for individual doctors, they will be liable
to fines of up to £5,000 from the Health and Safety Executive. They could also
be taken to employment tribunals by junior doctors.

Yet
evidence suggests many hospitals are struggling to meet the August deadline. A
survey conducted by the NHS Confederation last month showed that a sixth of
trusts do not expect to be compliant with the directive on 1 August.

By Michael Millar

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