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Wednesday, 7 August, 2002, 04:55 GMT 05:55 UK
Junior doctors face 'illegal' rotas
Many newly qualified doctors will be over-worked
A third of the newly qualified doctors who begin work in hospitals on Wednesday will be working too many hours, it is claimed.

The warning comes from the British Medical Association which monitors the hours and working conditions of health service professionals.

Some 4,700 new doctors who have just finished medical school are due to start work at hospitals on the same day.

Life is tough for newly-qualified doctors

Dr Trevor Pickersgill, BMA

In the past they could work up to 100 hours a week, but since August 2001, their rotas have been limited to 56 hours a week.

It was set at that in an attempt to gradually bring it into line with the European Time Directive of a 48-hour limit.

It was hoped that would be achievable by 2009.

Fast pace

But the BMA thinks many will start their career working far more hours than the 56-hour limit.

"Life is tough for newly-qualified doctors," said Junior doctors leader Dr Trevor Pickersgill.

"Although working hours are slowly coming down, the pace of hospital life has intensified, with more acutely ill patients being treated and shorter stays in hospital."

Junior doctors - known professionally as pre-registration house officers - work for one year before earning their full registration with the General Medical Council.

Then they become a senior house officer for three or four years before taking specialist training.

Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "The fundamental problem is the government's failure to expand the number of consultants to do work currently done by junior doctors, and to provide greater supervision within reduced hours.

"As a result, the sickest patients tend to be seen late at night by the least experienced doctors.

"In many cases, as these figures show, junior doctors are likely to be sleep deprived or frantically busy."

Government response

A Department of Health spokeswoman said this was the first government to take the 56-hour maximum working week seriously.

She said: "All trusts are now required to include a maximum of 56 hours work a week in all contracts of employment for new junior doctors.

"This will include all other doctors in training from August 2003."

She said a national monitoring exercise, carried out by the department in March this year, found that 95% of all pre-registration house officers met the targets of working a maximum of 56 hours a week with appropriate breaks.

"We are working closely with the medical profession to ensure that all juniors benefit from the reducing hours," she said.

The BBC's Jane Warr
"Many young doctors are too scared to speak out"
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