Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Reducing hours of work of preregistration house officers: report on a shift system.

British Medical Journal 1991; 302 doi: (Published 12 January 1991) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1991;302:93
  1. D. G. Nasmyth,
  2. A. Pickersgill,
  3. M. Hogarth
  1. Professional Surgical Unit, Royal Liverpool Hospital.


    OBJECTIVE--To determine the advantages and disadvantages of a shift system of working compared with the conventional on call system for preregistration house officers. DESIGN--A shift system of working was employed in the unit from 1 August 1989 to 31 July 1990. During attachments of three or six months four house officers rotated at intervals of one month among three daytime shifts and one night shift (Mondays to Fridays only). Weekends (48 hours) were worked on a one in three rota by the doctors working a day shift. The views of the house officers working this shift system were sought in writing and by direct interview. SETTING--Professorial surgical unit, Royal Liverpool Hospital. SUBJECTS--The 14 house officers who were attached to the unit for three or six months during their preregistration year. RESULTS--The shift system was preferred to conventional on call without exception. The incidence of chronic tiredness was reduced and formal hand-over between shifts resulted in more informed decision making by doctors while on call. During annual leave it was sometimes necessary to revert to the conventional one in three on call system to ensure that daytime work was completed. Other disadvantages were the long weekend shift and an inequitable distribution of the night shift. The house officers recommended extending the shifts to weekends and working the night shift one week in four. CONCLUSION--A shift system of working was effective in reducing chronic tiredness among house officers, who found it preferable to conventional on call arrangements. Shift working is feasible only if the daytime duties of the doctor working at night can be completed by the other doctors on the rota.