Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature EU Referendum and Health

What Brexit would mean for employment of doctors

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: (Published 24 May 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i2928
  1. Anne Gulland, freelance journalist, London, UK
  1. agulland{at}

Anne Gulland assesses how leaving the EU would affect working conditions

Would working hours change for doctors?

The European Working Time Directive is the key piece of European Union legislation affecting doctors’ working hours, limiting the working week to 48 hours. The regulations were implemented in 1998, but all junior doctors were not included until 2009.

Some specialties, particularly surgeons, have been concerned that the 48 hour week limits training. Doctors can opt out of the 48 hour limit, and a Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) review of the directive called for more widespread use of the opt-out.1 The UK is one of the few EU countries to use the opt-out.

Jason Heyes, professor of employment relations at the University of Sheffield, believes that the working time regulations, the UK law enacting the EU directive, is one of the employment laws most likely to be repealed or reformed if we leave the EU.

“The regulations are a particular bugbear as they’re seen by many Conservative politicians as an unnecessary and damaging burden …

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