JUNIOR doctors will no longer be expected to work seven night shifts in a row from February, the Scottish Government has announced.
The move follows a sustained campaign by the family of Dr Lauren Connelly who was killed in a road accident in 2011 after working long hours.
Currently, the European Working Time Directive limits the average working week for doctors to 48 hours. However this can be averaged out over a month, meaning some doctors still work more than 48 hours in a single week.
Health Secretary Alex Neil said this practice was “not in the spirit of the law” and called on health boards to phase out week-long night shifts by February. Figures show that one per cent of rotas in Scotland schedule trainees to work seven full night shifts in a row.
Mr Neil also plans to simplify the way junior doctors’ working hours are monitored. He said that, while progress has been made, more had to be done to ensure the right work-life balance was in place.
Health boards will also be expected to eventually reduce long stretches of days on duty. By 2016, the government expects no junior doctor will work more than seven day shifts in a row. Staff should also be given access to appropriate rest facilities.
Mr Neil said: “I am quite clear that no junior doctors in Scotland should have to work seven nights in a row and I am committed to ending this practice where, on occasion, it does exist by February next year.
“While 99 per cent of rotas in NHS Scotland do not include a junior doctor working more than four nights in a row, we are committed to ensuring full, 100 per cent compliance from health boards. We expect boards to observe not simply the letter, but also the spirit of the law.”
External assessments will be introduced to ensure health boards comply with the new rules.
At the time of Dr Lauren Connelly’s death, her father Brian told the Herald newspaper that she had worked 10 days in a row after starting her job at Inverclyde Royal Hospital and had completed another 12-day run of more than 107 hours in the weeks before she died. He believes his daughter was suffering from accumulated fatigue at the time of her fatal crash.
The Scottish Government’s announcement has been welcomed by the BMA.
Their Scottish junior doctors committee chairman Dr David Reid said: “There is a growing body of evidence to demonstrate the dangers of shift working patterns on individual doctors' performance and more importantly on patient safety.
"I am therefore pleased that the Scottish government has set a deadline to end the practice of junior doctors working seven full night shifts in a row.”
But he added: "Although this is welcome progress, many junior doctors still work a combination of both day and night shifts which means they can be working up to 90 hours a week. "It will be a challenge for NHS employers and the Scottish Government to achieve the target to end long stretches of day shifts."