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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 13:58 GMT
Overworked doctors 'like drunks'

Overworked junior doctors in Australia are so tired that they have symptoms similar to drunkeness, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has said.

The AMA said a survey had found more than 80% of the country's junior doctors - who often work 18-hour shifts - were working an unsafe number of hours every week.


If junior doctors were considered drunk on the job, hospitals would stop the doctors working

Dr Sarah Whitelaw
The survey found that 29% of junior doctors worked up to 106 hours a week, rated as a "high risk" for impaired performance from fatigue, while 53% worked up to 86 hours a week.

The association's training representative, Dr Sarah Whitelaw, said clinical studies showed performance levels after 18 hours without sleep were the same as having a blood alcohol level greater than 0.05%.

Safeguards

"If junior doctors were considered drunk on the job, hospitals would stop the doctors working. There must be safeguards put in place to eliminate workplace fatigue through excessive hours," Dr Whitelaw said.


There's no question that with doctors suffering significant levels of fatigue, patient safety is compromised

Dr Kerryn Phelps
She added that doctors were "resuscitating, treating and operating" in this condition.

The AMA said one doctor reported working 63 hours non-stop on hospital duty, while another said he worked more than 200 hours over two weeks.

Another doctor in Sydney worked 120 hours one week - with three night shifts - and 99 hours the next week, including 38 on his feet in one stretch.

"This is not acceptable for doctors - or patients," said the association's national president Dr Kerryn Phelps.

Junior doctors also endure long hours in other countries, including Britain.

A European Union directive, which must shortly be implemented, stipulates that by 2004, junior doctors must conform to the maximum working week of 48 hours, which covers working practices in most other employment fields under EU law.

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31 Jan 01 | Northern Ireland
Hospitals face working hours fines
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