NHS Trusts risk legal action by allowing junior doctors to deliberately breach the European Working Time Directive (WTD), according to a new study.
The current implementation of the WTD, which came into force last year, requires juniors to take 11 hours of rest within any 24-hour period, to work no more than 58 hours a week and to count rest time at work as working time.
But a survey of trainee surgeons, part of a paper submitted to the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, reveals that 77% admitted working in breach of the directive. With official compliance rates at around 90%, the report said juniors might be falsifying monitoring forms to further their training.
One of the 44 respondents said trainees could not achieve satisfactory competence working to the WTD-compliant timetables.
NHS Employers deputy director Alastair Henderson said that while it was important that junior doctors properly record all their working hours and comply with the WTD, the onus ultimately rests with employers.
"Those responsible for junior doctors have a responsibility to ensure this is done properly," he said. "If the Health & Safety Executive discovers a breach, it has the power to fine an employer. However, everyone, including junior doctors, has the option of formally opting out of the working time directive."
Professor John Macfie, editorial secretary to the Association of Surgeons and one of the report's authors, said he hoped the results would pressurise politicians to ask for the WTD to be redrafted.