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NHS Employers denies 48-hour working week for doctors has made hospitals less safe

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NHS Employers has defended the working time directive, following a recent report that hospital patient safety has been put under threat by the 48-hour working week.

Following a report earlier this week from the Royal College of Surgeons of England, which found since the introduction of the European Working Time Regulations (EWTR) limiting doctors to working 48 hours a week, patients in NHS hospitals are in fact much less safe than they were a year ago, NHS employers has denied the new legislation has led to these problems.

Bill McMillan, head of medical pay and workforce at NHS Employers, said: "We are surprised that the Royal College of Surgeons’ survey shows its respondents believe that the implementation of the European Working Time Directive (EWTD) has resulted in an NHS that is less safe for patients.

"We believe that NHS organisations are committed to ensuring that doctors are able to work and train in a way that is safe and effective for both them and their patients.  We are not aware of any evidence that suggests the new legislation specifically has led to an increase in errors.

"There continues to be significantly more qualified applicants than available surgical consultant posts, and appointing committees are able to successfully appoint suitable candidates. This suggests that currently trainees are meeting the required standard during their training.

"No one wants to return to doctors in training working excessive hours. This created tired doctors and led to significant risk to both patients and doctors’ own wellbeing.

"Professor [Sir John] Temple’s report: Time for Training – A Review of the Impact of the European Working Time Directive on the Quality of Training, published in June this year, concluded that quality medical training can be delivered within a 48-hour working week. The report highlighted some challenges for the service and its doctors and we continue to work with the BMA, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and the Government to agree the best way forward.

"The interaction of working time regulations and the contract of employment for doctors in training, the way in which consultant doctors work, the quality and management of doctors rotas, and the most effective use of handovers all need to be addressed by employers and doctors working together to ensure their own and their patients’ safety.

"We welcome the Government’s support for a more flexible directive and are contributing to the European Commission’s consultation on the review of the directive."