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England stops monitoring junior doctors’ hours

BMA raises fears over patient safety from lack of monitoring

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 01 September 2011

The NHS in England has stopped national and regional monitoring of junior doctors’ rotas to ensure they comply with the European Working Time Directive (EWTD), it has been revealed. 

A report published today in BMJ Careers says that there is no longer national or regional monitoring of the rotas to check that they comply with the 48 hours a week limit stipulated in the EWTD. 

The situation is different elsewhere in the UK as the governments in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland regularly collect and review data on whether rotas are compliant with the “new deal” contract for doctors in training, which is used as a proxy for compliance with the 48 hour limit in the directive. 

In England, however, the “ministerial return” that hospital trusts previously submitted on compliance with the EWTD was cancelled in August 2010 “to reduce bureaucracy”. 

Because of this, the Department of Health in England was unable to provide BMJ Careers with information on the proportion of rotas that complied with the directive, said the journal, unlike the health departments in Wales, where compliance of junior doctor rotas is 100%, Scotland, where compliance is 99%, and Northern Ireland, where compliance is currently 78%. 

The journal also found that none of the 10 strategic health authorities in England were collecting compliance data from trusts. Many authorities said this information was available only at trust level. 

Dr Shree Datta, co-chair of the BMA’s junior doctors committee said it was surprising that there was no regional oversight at least. 

“I think we’re talking about patient safety as well as doctor safety, so it would be really useful to see the ministerial returns back in place,” said Dr Datta. 

A spokesperson for Department of Health said: “As part of the government's commitment to reduce bureaucracy in the NHS, the secretary of state has stopped the central collection of new deal compliance data which was used as a proxy to demonstrate compliance with the working time directive. 

“Local organisations are still required to ensure compliance with the working time directive and to monitor that compliance.”

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