Hours worked by junior doctors are `out of control'

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The Independent Online
JUNIOR DOCTORS' hours are "spiralling out of control", the British Medical Association claimed yesterday as it published figures showing that more than 10,000 juniors are now working beyond nationally agreed limits.

The latest figures, collected by the BMA, show that one in three juniors is now working more than 56 hours a week, or 72 hours on call - up from one in four in the last survey conducted earlier this year. The figures, which are in breach of the New Deal agreement limiting their hours, is an embarrassment to the Government which has pledged to reduce their workload. A deal on pay and hours agreed in principle by juniors' leaders in September was thrown out by the BMA's junior doctors committee last week after agreement on pay levels could not be reached.

The deal included an agreement that all juniors would be working within the 56-hour limit, or 72 hours including on call, within five years. The latest figures show that in some parts of the country more than half of juniors are working beyond these limits.

Andrew Hobart, chairman of the BMA's junior doctors committee, said: "These latest statistics are scandalous. The hours are spiralling out of control and it is possible that the rates of non-compliance could actually be much worse. Is it any wonder that the morale of junior doctors is at an all-time low? It is unacceptable for this trend to continue."

The specialty with the highest pressure is paediatrics, where 45 per cent of juniors are working beyond the limit. Surgery, medicine and obstetrics are also hard hit. Fiona Kew, deputy chairwoman of the committee, said: "It is shocking to see that children are most at risk from being cared for by overworked, overtired, stressed-out junior doctors. There is no doubt that when you have been continuously working for long stretches of time your performance is affected."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said that cutting hours was a key aim of the new pay deal agreed in principle with the juniors' negotiators in September. Other measures were being taken to identify hospitals with the worst records and to target problem posts. "Junior doctors' leaders are aware we are implementing a tough package to reduce their hours," she said.