Doctor's death fuels row on hours

THE HOSPITAL where a young doctor collapsed and died shortly after completing an 86-hour week, yesterday defended its record on junior doctors' hours as 'better than most', writes Liz Hunt.

Alan Massie, 27, a senior house officer at Warrington District General Hospital in Cheshire, died on 31 January. According to reports he had worked seven of the previous eight days and three nights, including unbroken spells of 27 hours and 24 hours.

The cause of death has not been established but his parents, George and Margaret Massie, blame the long hours and pressure of the six months he had spent in one of the most demanding fields, obstetrics and gynaecology. Dr Massie died on the final day of his training in the speciality.

Mr and Mrs Massie, who heard last week that the coroner had ordered more tests on their son's body after his heart was found to be normal, said their son's health had deteriorated markedly in the previous six months.

Dr Massie's death is embarrassing for Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, who has said repeatedly she is committed to a reduction in junior doctors' hours in line with the European Union average of 59 a week.

Under the Government's 'New Deal', posts in excess of 83 hours a week should have been eliminated by the end of last year, and those in excess of 72 hours are due for elimination by 1995.

Despite the creation of 125 new consultant posts and an extra pounds 50m announced last month, critics say that the targets cannot be met. The British Medical Association says more than 1,200 junior doctors still work over 83 hours a week, and 10,000 doctors work more than 72 hours a week.

A spokesman for the hospital said Dr Massie did not 'drop dead straight after working 86 hours as has been implied'. He 'was off for 24 hours after this shift and then worked from 9am to 5pm, an eight- hour shift on the Monday. He died that evening in staff quarters while watching television'.

Warrington District General had been at the forefront of moves to reduce working hours for juniors, he added.

'The average had come down to 72 hours a week over the previous six months and we are better than most other district generals in this respect.'

Edwin Borman, chairman of the junior doctors committee of the BMA, said: 'I hope that this tragic death will reinforce for all in the NHS the need to reduce junior doctors' hours.'