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Surgeons in England lobby prime minister on working hours

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 24 November 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:1228
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. London

    The president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England has written to the prime minister asking him to try to secure an opt-out arrangement from the European Working Time Directive for surgeons in training in the United Kingdom.

    In a letter sent earlier this month, Bernard Ribeiro, the college's president, argued that the European Working Time Directive, which from August 2004 reduced the working week for junior doctors to a maximum of 58 hours, has had a detrimental impact on the quality of surgical care provided to patients in the UK.

    He noted that recent surveys by the college had found that 84% of consultants considered that the continuity of care provided for patients had worsened with new working patterns; 67% felt that quality of care had also deteriorated. With regard to training, 80% of consultants reported that direct time with trainees had decreased by an average of 33% (BMJ 2005;330:499).

    Drawing on his own experience working as a surgeon at Basildon University Hospital, Essex, Mr Ribeiro reported that his own senior house officers were required to leave his operating list at 5 pm, even though the list was scheduled to end at 7.30 pm. “Not only do they feel frustrated at losing training opportunities, but they feel they are unable to provide total care for their patients,” he said in the letter.

    Mr Ribeiro said, “Surgery is a craft specialty that requires substantial time in which to gain essential operative skills. At the same time, it is about being with the patient on the whole of his or her ‘journey,’ providing the reassurance of continuity.” He asked that the prime minister support an initiative to secure an opt-out arrangement for surgeons in training, similar to that in other services, such as the police.

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