EWTD review could allow juniors more flexible hours

SENIOR medics hope a review of the European Working Time Directive in Brussels will bring greater flexibility to junior doctors’ working hours.

The European Commission recently set out plans to revise the directive which has limited trainees to a 48-hour week since August 2009. A fresh round of consultation is now underway and will run until the end of February.

The Commission is asking the views of employers and workers’ representatives in a bid to revise the EWTD. The rules have been criticised by some healthcare leaders who believe it restricts training opportunities for junior doctors.

A spokesman for the Commission said: “The current situation is not sustainable politically or legally. We need a fresh start and a new EU-level approach to working time.” He admitted the process “will not be easy” but was confident of finding “a balanced solution that mirrors the real needs of workers, consumers and businesses in the 21st century.”

The review has been welcomed by the Royal College of Surgeons president John Black. He said: “UK surgeons and physicians know that the European Working Time Directive has failed to improve work-life balance while putting patients at risk through diminished training and excessive shift handovers. The UK government have acknowledged this too and this EU review presents a clear opportunity for UK politicians to negotiate an effective solution.”

The consultation addresses a number of issues including whether periods of time spent on-call at the workplace should be counted differently and whether the reference period for calculating working time should be extended to 12 months.

Dr Richard Marks, head of policy at pressure group Remedy, said: “We are delighted that the European Commission does not consider maintaining the status quo is an option. Plans to deconstruct the EWTD need to be developed as quickly as possible.”

The review document can be found here