Junior doctors fear negative impact of Working Time Directive on skills and training

The training and skills of junior doctors could be limited by the cap on their working hours, which comes into force next year, new research has suggested.

From August 2009, the European Working Time Directive will cut the maximum number of hours junior doctors can work from 56 to 48.

A survey of 470 junior doctors conducted by the British Medical Association (BMA) found that nearly two-thirds of respondents felt compliance with the new rules would have a “negative effect” on their training.

A third were most concerned about the impact on the quality of training, while a similar number identified its impact on their ability to gain the skills necessary to ensure they would not be a threat to patient safety.

Nearly seven in 10 (68%) said the number of years junior doctors spend training should be increased.

Ram Moorthy, chairman of the BMA Junior Doctors Committee, said it would consider the possibility of lengthening the amount of time it takes to qualify as a consultant, because of the effect the 48-hour week would have on training.

“Our training has to get far better if we’re going to continue to produce the best quality doctors,” he insisted.

Doctors called on the BMA to campaign to ensure training is deliverable within a 48-hour week.

An NHS Employers spokesperson said it would be a challenge for trusts to ensure that effective junior doctor training could meet the requirements of the 48 hour week.

“The Working Time Directive aims to ensure that doctors don’t work unacceptably long hours and we welcome this in the interests of quality of care and patient safety. However, there is a need to ensure that doctors continue to get the best medical training, which does take time. There is a balance to be struck,” she spokesperson told Personnel Today.

A second survey of 848 BMA members at all levels found that 57% of respondents did not believe it would be possible to train a doctor adequately in any speciality while complying with the limits.

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