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European working time law has “failed spectacularly”, say UK surgeons


2 August, 2010  

The European law brought in to improve patient safety and the working lives of doctors has “failed spectacularly” say UK surgeons on the first anniversary of its implementation.

Results of a survey published yesterday (1 August 2010) by the Royal College of Surgeons of England suggest that since the restrictions of the European Working Time Regulations (EWTR), which has limited doctors to working no more than 48 hours a week, patients in the UK’s NHS hospitals are in fact much less safe than they were a year ago, and the situation is getting worse.

The survey of 980 surgeons and surgical trainees covered all nine surgical specialties and all strategic health authorities in England, as well as surgeons based in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and compared responses to a similar survey undertaken last year. It reveals:

  • 80% of consultant surgeons and two thirds of surgical trainees (66%) say that patient care has deteriorated under the directive.
  • Two thirds of trainees (65%) say their training time has decreased.
  • More than a quarter of senior surgeons are no longer able to be involved in all of the key stages of a patients’ care.
  • Two thirds of trainees have reported a decline in training time in the operating theatre and 61% of consultants report that they are operating without trainee assistance more frequently since the EWTR was introduced.
  • 41% of consultants and 37% of trainees reported “inadequate handovers”.
  • 72% of trainees and 61% of consultants are consistently working more than the permitted hours.

The Royal College of Surgeons says the survey paints a picture where surgeons are left alone  in the operating room with no time to train their juniors, who are left to manage entire wards on their own without supervision.

A consultant surgeon and Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, responding to the survey, said: “The EWTD has been a training disaster. We are raising a generation of demotivated, demoralised and poorly trained surgeons. The UK will pay for this and regret it for at least 30 years.”

The Association of Surgeons in Training (ASiT) and The British Orthopaedic Trainees Association (BOTA) have both produced policy statements that working up to 65 hours a week (including time spent available on call) offers the ideal balance between adequate training opportunities, good patient care and work-life balance.

The Royal College of Surgeons fully endorses this call and all three organisations have been campaigning for this.

Royal College of Surgeons