Cash boost to cut doctors' hours

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THE GOVERNMENT yesterday gave an unexpected pounds 12m boost to its programme to cut junior doctors' hours in an attempt to stem criticism of the slow progress in implementing its plans across the country, writes Judy Jones.

The money will pay for extra consultants on top of the 350 new posts already promised to help spread the hospital workload more evenly among senior and junior medical staff. It will also help fund regional task force initiatives to change working patterns and improve junior doctors' accommodation.

The cash brings to pounds 37m the total budget for implementing the 'New Deal' for junior hospital doctors agreed in June 1991. Under the deal, ministers pledged that no junior's contracted working week should exceed 83 hours by 1 April, and that none in the most hard-pressed specialities should have to work more than 72 hours by the end of next year.

However, independent research commissioned by the Department of Health and disclosed by the Independent on Sunday last month, showed that little effort had been made to meet the targets in many parts of the UK. The study found that some consultants and hospital managers were actively opposing steps to bring about more civilised hours for Britain's 24,000 junior doctors.

Dr Brian Mawhinney, Minister for Health, yesterday agreed to publish the study by Dr Irene Higginson, a lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. 'I want to see us moving forward at the pace of the more successful regions,' he said.