A project that changed the model of shift patterns and staffing in the NHS has been rolled out to 24 trusts across England, after a pilot scheme delivered improvements to doctors' working life and patient care.
The Hospital at Night project was trialled in four NHS trusts across England to find new ways of reducing trainee doctors' working hours to comply with the Working Time Directive (WTD). The law states that, by 2009, junior doctors must not work more than 48 hours a week.
Hospital at Night redefined how medical cover is provided in hospitals during the out-of-hours period. It moved away from cover defined by professional demarcation and grade, to cover that is defined by competency.
The pilot project helped to improve patient care by prioritising acutely ill patients, and ensured they were treated more quickly by doctors who were more alert, a report from the University of Manchester's business school found.
Public health minister, Caroline Flint, said: "Hospital at Night played a key role in helping trusts formulate new ways of working, achieve WTD compliance and improve patient care, and encouraged a better work-life balance for doctors."
Flint said the NHS now needed to build on the success of this strategy and keep up the momentum in reducing doctors' hours.
"The job is not fully done, but the principles underpinning Hospital at Night will be a key solution to the 2009 48-hour European Working Time Directive," she said.