Junior doctors will be subject to EU work hours limit

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The Independent Online
JUNIOR DOCTORS were celebrating last night in their campaign to reduce 72-hour shifts, after the European Parliament voted to include them in the EU working time directive.

The vote could force the Government to introduce a limit of 48 hours a week for Britain's 35,000 junior doctors within four years, instead of the Government's proposed 13 years, unless the vote European Parliament vote is overturned by the Council of Ministers.

The decision, which would cap shifts at 54 hours immediately, was backed by a vote of 455 to three, and won the support of several Labour MEPs including Glenys Kinnock.

But British ministers, who have taken the hardest line of any EU country on the issue, made clear last night they would oppose the quicker move to shorter hours. They warned that, unless it was changed, the NHS might be forced to close wards or hospitals to comply with the directive. Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, will be arguing for a compromise in the European Council of Ministers.

Junior doctors have been ready to accept a transition period of seven years, but the Government fears that anything less than a ten-year transition period would cause disruption in the NHS. A Department of Health spokesman said: "A massive reduction in doctors' hours is going to mean a massive reduction in services and additional closure of hospitals.

"We are sticking very strongly to our view that the UK needs much longer than four years to move to a 48-hour working week for junior doctors."

British Tory MEPs voted for the working time directive. They accused British ministers of "working junior doctors to the bone".

Andrew Hobart, chairman of the BMA's junior doctors committee, said: "The Government must take action immediately to increase even further the number of medical student places and consultant posts to ensure that the working time directive can be implemented within a sensible time frame."

t Tough new measures against tobacco companies, including new lower levels of tar and clearer health warnings on packets were outlined by the European Commission last night. The plans must be approved by a majority of health ministers and the EU Parliament.