The country’s leading surgeon has called for a new UK opt-out for doctors after warning that the European Working Time Directive (WTD) is having a damaging impact on patient care.
Bernard Ribeiro, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, has formally written to Tony Blair asking for an exemption from the directive for surgeons in training.
“Many surgeons genuinely wish to work longer than the permitted hours to maintain the highest standards of care today and to train. Without this option, surgery faces formidable challenges in delivering the quality and continuity patients expect and deserve,” he said.
Junior doctors have been restricted to a maximum of 58 hours a week since 2004 and this is set to be reduced further – potentially to 48 hours by 2009. Before the introduction of the new rules, most trainee surgeons would rest at the hospital while they were on call, but most now work continuous shifts of 13 hours followed by 11 hours of continuous rest.
Ribeiro believes this lack of flexibility limits the trainees’ experience and reduces the amount of time spent with tutors.
The Freight Transport Association has claimed that any removal of special working time rules for UK transport firms would prove disastrous. The Road Transport Directive currently limits drivers to 48 hours a week, but crucially the regulations do not include time spent available for work as part of this overall limit.