South African doctors protest long shifts by wearing coloured wristbands

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 04 October 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i5338
  1. Pat Sidley
  1. Johannesburg

Doctors in South Africa are demonstrating against the dangers of working long hours by wearing different coloured wristbands according to the number of hours they have worked.

In the campaign, organised by the South African Medical Association and largely involving junior doctors, red wristbands were worn by doctors who had worked for more than 30 hours in one shift, orange by those who had worked between 24 and 30 hours, and green for those who had worked less than 24 hours.


Wristbands worn by South African doctors in the campaign against long shifts

Mark Sonderup, vice chair of the association, said that the campaign launched a week ago and would run until mid-October. It was sparked by the death of Ilne Markwat, a young doctor from Cape Town who died in a car crash on her way home after working a 30 hour shift and apparently falling asleep at the wheel.

Sonderup said, “It is intended to raise awareness of the situation.” The campaign has so far had 182 000 “likes” on Facebook and Twitter, he noted.

Sonderup hoped that the campaign would trigger a much needed overhaul of the health service in South Africa. He said, “It’s the start of a long journey that involves the whole system: staffing, unfilled posts, and the burden of disease. It has been happening forever, but that does not mean it is OK.”

The national government has not responded to the protest, although the Western Cape government has said that from January doctors would not work shifts longer than 24 hours.

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