Doctors' hours scheme sabotaged

HOSPITAL consultants and managers in some areas are threatening to sabotage a government drive to reduce junior hospital doctors' dangerously long hours.

According to unpublished research commissioned by the Department of Health, many hospitals are unlikely to meet April's deadline for an 83-hour ceiling on the working week. Regional task forces set up by the Government two years ago to implement the 'new deal' are being hampered by resistance from senior staff, it says.

Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, whose daughter is a junior doctor, treated the reforms as a personal crusade when she was a junior health minister.

An independent preliminary evaluation of the new deal, prepared for the NHS Management Executive by Dr Irene Higginson, a senior lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, identifies widespread failures in the phased programme. Her research shows that recommended changes in working patterns have barely started in many areas.

Although the Government has created 350 extra consultants' posts to spread the workload more evenly, several regions have recruitment problems, made worse by what is seen as the low prestige of the posts.

Dr Higginson also highlights fears that some of the pounds 25m allocated for the new posts over the past two years has been siphoned off for other projects. She interviewed several groups of doctors across four English health regions, and examined the records of all 14 regions.

One particularly embarrassing finding is Dr Higginson's confirmation of long- standing complaints by junior doctors that the Government is using unreliable criteria to assess the success of its scheme. Health ministers are using the hours contracted by juniors to judge its progress, rather than the actual hours worked. The report says the regional health authorities have made good progress on collecting information about contracted hours. 'The actual hours worked by juniors were more difficult to determine and were not recorded in routine returns.'

Dr Higginson also found consultant members of local new deal implementation teams presiding over some of the most exploitative juniors' regimes. 'Some task force members seemed uncomfortable with this situation and had to deal with the offending consultants by either offering resources, or threatening to suggest a review.'

Another problem is slow progress in shifting the many 'inappropriate tasks' that junior doctors routinely carry out, on to other workers, such as administrative assistants.

While some regional task forces were working hard to reduce hours, others 'felt there was only a limited amount they could do to assist . . . and were sometimes overwhelmed by the resistance they met' at senior hospital staff level. The task forces should be given powers to enforce implementation, the report states.

Although some hospitals are well on target to meet the deadline, progress is patchy, says Dr Higginson. The target of restricting the doctors' working week to 83 hours 'may not be possible'.

Juniors have become increasingly sceptical about the Government's commitment to bringing about a genuine reduction in hours. Edwin Borman, chairman of the Junior Doctors' Committee, that represents around 24,000 medical staff, said: 'We are concerned that health authorities see the New Deal as predominantly a paper exercise. They are changing the contracts, but not reducing the actual hours juniors are on their feet, on the wards, looking after patients.' The average working week for junior doctors in other EC countries is 59 hours.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: C# Developer - Kent - £43,000

£35000 - £43000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: C# and .Net Developer - n...

Guru Careers: Digital Marketing Exec / Online Marketing Executive

£35 - 40k: Guru Careers: Our client has a new role for a Digital Marketing Exe...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'