European parliament supports juniors on working hours

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 27 November 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1392
  1. Linda Beecham
  1. BMJ

    The European parliament has voted to include junior doctors in the working time directive which limits employees to 48 hours of work each week; initially, however, there will be an upper limit of 54 hours a week. The directive will be phased in over four years.

    The decision overturns the proposal made by the Council of Ministers in May which suggested that a 13 year transitional period should be implemented and that during the first seven years of this period junior doctors would be allowed to work even longer hours than they do at present. The legal limit on the maximum number of hours that could be worked each week would have been higher than the present non-statutory limit of 56 hours, which was agreed in the new deal worked out between the government and the juniors.

    During the discussion on the possible application of the directive to junior doctors, the BMA emphasised that the definition of what constitutes working time and on call time should be negotiated at national level It has also said that in the United Kingdom the 48 hour limit should apply to the actual hours of work, not contracted hours; that protected time for education should be regarded as working time; and that doctors who wish to do so should be able to work longer.

    The NHS will have to make changes to implement the directive. The chairman of the BMA's Junior Doctors Committee, Andrew Hobart, said, “An additional 6000 doctors will be needed to implement the working time directive for junior doctors. The government must take action immediately to increase even further the number of places for medical students and consultant posts.”

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