Page last updated at 07:55 GMT, Saturday, 1 August 2009 08:55 UK

Row as junior doctors' hours cut

Doctors look at x-rays
BMA Wales said reducing junior doctor working hours would improve care

Doctors' leaders in Wales claim the NHS has failed to prepare properly for cuts in junior doctors' working hours.

The British Medical Association (BMA) says the assembly government and NHS trusts have not planned to cover the reduced staffing that will result.

Tories say the cut from 56 to 48 hours a week under the European working time directive will have a "serious impact" on an already understaffed Welsh NHS.

But the assembly government called the criticism "scaremongering".

On Wednesday, Hywel Dda NHS NHS Trust said hospitals in south west and mid Wales faced a doctor shortage which could leave them "clinically unsafe".

The trust, which serves Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire, said contingency plans, such as recruiting from outside Europe, had been put in place but changes in immigration rules had meant their entry into the UK was delayed.

Earlier in the month, a doctors' recruitment crisis led to two children's wards closing at Singleton Hospital in Swansea.

Now with 30% of the population set to catch swine flu, it is very hard to envisage how the NHS will cope with having to work to these strict regulations
Andrew RT Davies, Conservative health spokesman

The Welsh Conservatives said bringing in the lower working hours when hospitals in Wales were already understaffed would affect staff and patients.

Tory health spokesman Andrew RT Davies said: "The Conservative Party has warned the government repeatedly that forcing junior doctors to comply to the directive could compromise services and potentially undermine patient care.

"Now with 30% of the population set to catch swine flu, it is very hard to envisage how the NHS will cope with having to work to these strict regulations."

British Medical Association (BMA) Wales said reducing junior doctors' working hours would improve patient care and the welfare of staff.

But it criticised the assembly government and NHS trusts in Wales for not making the appropriate contingency plans to counter the reduced staffing levels that would follow.

"We have been working with the Welsh Assembly Government for the last two years trying to tell them to prepare for the working hours directive," said a spokesman for BMA Wales.

"We've been trying to attract junior doctors to Wales and have produced two DVDs. We have done our share but the question is what have the assembly government and the NHS trusts done?"


The BMA said there were various reasons why junior doctors did not want to work in Wales, including that some believed they would have to speak Welsh to work in the country, and the perception that Wales was "the back of beyond".

He also said junior doctors in Wales were on four-monthly rotations that could potentially take them to all four corners of the country and that this was unattractive to recruits with families.

"We have been asking the Welsh Assembly Government to set up a task force to look into this problem. It hasn't happened and we don't know why."

The assembly government said the regulations included the flexibility to cope with an emergency as the 48-hour week is averaged out over a six-month period, so that doctors could reduce their hours at a later date.

"Where additional cover is needed doctors can voluntarily 'opt-out' of the 48-hour limit to provide this. Patients will always be the priority," it said.

"However, we need to remember that the legislation is to prevent against tired doctors and nurses working excessive hours.

"Outside of exceptional or emergency circumstances doctors, like other health professionals, and their patients, should be protected by the reasonable controls on working hours set out in the working time regulations."

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