Fresh call for changes to EWTD

  • Date: 28 March 2011

SENIOR medical groups have called for changes to the compensatory rest element of the European Working Time Directive and how the directive applies to on-call time.

The NHS Confederation, the Royal College of Physicians, and the BMA have made submissions to the European Commission’s second stage consultation on the directive. They all argue that the European Court of Justice’s strict interpretation of the rules concerning on-call time and compensatory rest has had a negative effect on staffing levels, costs, and time available for care of patients.

The rules on “compensatory rest” mean that if an employee’s weekly working hours exceed the 48 hour threshold, they must be given rest time as soon as the period of work ends – and not at a later date. The NHS Confederation’s European Office is arguing that this requirement should be made more flexible, while the BMA has called the rules “unworkable”.

An additional requirement forces doctors who are on call at home, but who attend during their shift, to take the rest time the next morning. This has lead to short notice cancellation of clinics, the RCP argues.

Time spent on call at the hospital was classified as “working time” by the European Court in 2000, meaning it counts towards the 48 hour week. The NHS Confederation and the RCP want greater flexibility built into the EWTD to allow for the fact that doctors spend only a proportion of their on-call shift working. But the BMA has said all time spent on call at the workplace must be counted as working time.

All three organisations want to see the continuation of an opt-out clause in the EWTD for doctors.

Elisabetta Zanon, director of the NHS Confederation’s European Office, said: “The European Working Time Directive needs a new approach which is realistic and fits in with the way our health service works. We don’t want to go back to the bad old days of long hours for staff, but we do need a compromise which allows an adequate provision of services for patients.”

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