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Goodbye to the European Working Time Directive?

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 06 July 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i3702
  1. Andrew F Goddard, the registrar
  1. Royal College of Physicians, London, UK
  1. andrewgoddard{at}

Not yet, and not without an act of parliament

The tornado that was the EU referendum has, for some, allowed the colourful possibility of overturning the unpopular European Working Time Directive (EWTD). This would, they claim, create a new era where UK trainees didn’t have to travel half a world away for a better working life. The supportive medical “firm” could be restored and teams could link arms and skip happily into a new future, or perhaps a nostalgic past.1

Before the European directive junior doctors worked very long hours, around 90 a week in the 1980s reducing to 72 with the 1991 junior doctors’ contract.2 These long hours allowed continuity of care, the presence of most members of the firm most of the time, and substantial clinical experience (or training as it was called then). Doctors lived on site, and work-life balance and measuring patient safety were abstract concepts.

The European Commission introduced the EWTD in 1993, and the United …

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