Doctors' hours to be cut in pounds 11.6m package

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The Independent Online
EXTRA money to reduce the dangerously long hours worked by junior doctors is to be announced today by the Government after renewed criticism by the British Medical Association.

A total of 125 consultant posts is to be created with an extra pounds 11.6m, in addition to the pounds 38m already allocated for 1994-95.

The announcement by Brian Mawhinney, Minister of State for Health, will attempt to dampen fresh criticism by the BMA after a survey showing that more doctors were working long hours than the Department of Health realised.

Dr Mawhinney has told doctors' leaders that the Government is giving priority to eliminating posts in which doctors are expected to work more than 72 hours a week.

The Government is seeking to underline its commitment that, by the end of the year, no junior doctor should work on average more than 56 hours a week. An extra 600 consultant posts and 150 staff grade posts have been provided in the past three years.

More than pounds 115m has been spent by the Government on the 'New Deal' for junior doctors, following protests about the long hours they were being forced to work, and warnings about the possible risks from exhausted doctors treating accident and emergency cases.

The number of posts contracted for more than 83 hours a week was reduced by last September to 91 from more than 13,000 in 1990, according to Department of Health figures. However, the BMA produced a survey last week showing that the number of junior doctors working long hours was more than 10 times official estimates.

The BMA said about 1,200 doctors were contracted to exceed 83 hours a week and blamed the wide discrepancy on the poor information passed on by the NHS trust hospitals to the Department.

One BMA leader said about 10,000 doctors were working for more than 72 hours a week.

Dr Mawhinney said the BMA survey should be treated with caution. An independent survey, carried out for the Doctors and Dentists Review Body on pay, showed that overall contracted hours had fallen significantly.

'We have now spent more than pounds 115m on the New Deal for junior doctors. That is a clear signal of our determination to see the New Deal bringing real benefits for the health service in general and for junior doctors in particular.'