Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Application of airline pilots' hours to junior doctors.

British Medical Journal 1989; 299 doi: (Published 23 September 1989) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1989;299:779
  1. A. M. Wilson,
  2. G. Weston
  1. Department of Anaesthetics, Northern General Hospital, Sheffield.


    OBJECTIVE--To determine the staff required if the rules for airline pilots' hours of work are applied to junior doctors. DESIGN--Junior anaesthetists recorded their workload from 1 March 1988 to May 31 1988. SETTING--District general hospital. SUBJECTS--Two groups of three junior anaesthetists sharing a one in three rota to provide continuous emergency cover. INTERVENTIONS--By using the guidelines published by the Civil Aviation Authority in The Avoidance of Excessive Fatigue in Aircrews schedules were drawn up to cover the hours that junior doctors had been on duty. RESULTS--Each anaesthetist provided emergency and routine cover for 48-112 (mean 75) hours each week. To cover the work of six junior anaesthetists on an annual basis would require 26 doctors if they were working within the Civil Aviation Authority's guidelines. CONCLUSIONS--Junior anaesthetists' hours are much longer than those of airline pilots. Both professions entail considerable periods of monitoring interspersed with episodes of high demands on physical and cognitive skills. Errors induced by fatigue made by anaesthetists and pilots could result in death. The medical profession should define rules similar to those of the aviation authority to prevent junior doctors having to work unsafe numbers of hours.