Soundings Soundings

The European Leisure Time Directive

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 14 April 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:937
  1. James Owen Drife, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology
  1. Leeds

    The European Working Time Directive, currently causing chaos in the NHS, puts a 48 hour limit on the working week. This is difficult for doctors as most of us warm up only after 48 hours. Indeed, we are starting to panic about how to fill the other 120. Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of the European Leisure Time Directive.

    Research has shown that leisure is beneficial to health and therefore, like seat belts, it is being made compulsory. This is not as easy as it sounds. Academics, for example, are paid to think but if they do so beyond the limit, their employer will incur financial penalties. The traditional decerebrant, alcohol, is also unhealthy, so universities are introducing intensive tenpin bowling and snooker.

    Unlike the Working Time Directive, which puts doctors on a par with shelf stackers, the European Leisure Time Directive (ELTD) treats medicine as a special case. It also acknowledges that Britain is not like other countries, leisurewise.

    Britain's favourite relaxation is watching television drama. Nowadays this consists entirely of psychologically damaged people being aggressive to one another. As doctors spend much of their time listening to psychologically damaged people being aggressive, soap operas—particularly EastEnders—will not count as medical leisure activity (MLA) under European law.

    The country's second leisure activity is eating out. This raises problems of definition as working meals become more common. The ELTD requires the buffet to be weighed before and after a meal and the difference divided by the number of doctors present. A working breakfast is defined as up to 75g of croissant, 100g of muesli or 50g of yoghurt per head.

    Our third relaxation is sport. The gym is classed as MLA although it involves more calorific output than work. Boxing and tae kwon do are acceptable MLA for geriatricians but not for casualty officers, for whom they are normal working activities. Coarse fishing involves sitting around for long periods staring into space and waiting for the chance to do something, so it does not count as MLA for NHS surgeons in winter.

    Fourth is complaining about the state of the NHS. The ELTD recognises reality and allows this as leisure activity for doctors as for everyone else.

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