Letter: A shorter working week means fewer doctors in the hospital

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The Independent Online
I READ Sharon Willmott's article 'Is there a doctor in the hospital?' (18 September) at first with interest, and then with a growing sense of injustice. While unable to refute the facts of her story - there may have been no doctors responding to bleeps that Friday - I find her implied reasons unjust. They show a lack of comprehension of the structure of a doctor's working week.

Having worked as a hospital doctor for four years I can think of a number of reasons for failing to answer a bleep. We may be (a) scrubbed in theatre; (b) out of range doing a clinic in a satellite hospital; (c) on the toilet, in the shower; or (d) off-duty and, therefore, not wearing the bleep.

Since the British Medical Association managed to secure agreement on a maximum average working week of 72 hours for most junior doctors (previously it could be as much as 120 hours), the result has been that the available doctors are spread much more thinly on the ground.

Static numbers of doctors with the same workload but a shorter number of doctor-hours per week leads to fewer doctors 'on call' at any one time and covering more patients.

Doctors are, on the whole, responsible and hard-working individuals who realise that patients are their chief responsibility. The increasing pressures on our time, mostly from clinical duties, not, as Ms Willmott suggests, 'meetings, research, lecturing . . . reading . . . and keeping up with medical gossip', make it difficult for us to be a constantly-available, smiling face on the wards.

S H Walker

Belfast

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