The EU Working Time Directive is having "devastating" effects on the NHS, Conservative MP Charlotte Leslie has told MPs, and urged the government to look at ways to mitigate its impact on doctors.
Opening a Westminster Hall debate on 26 April 2012, the Bristol West MP said the "absolutely disastrous" regulations were strongly opposed by doctors for jeopardising doctor training, undermining patient safety, and costing the NHS money.
Ms Leslie, the daughter of a surgeon, acknowledged the directive was designed to put an end to junior doctors' 100-hour working week - and said she did not want a return to that.
But she added: "Lives are being put at risk because of Brussels bureaucracy that doesn't even begin to protect those workers it says it is designed to protect. This is one of the most important issues in the NHS."
She argued that health professionals needed the flexibility to drive their services as they see fit, rather than "arbitrary restrictions".
The Conservative's Caroline Dineage suggested that a simple solution would be to exempt doctors from the directive, in the same way the police and armed forces are.
Dr Dan Poulter, Tory MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, claimed the directive encouraged a clocking on-clocking off culture which went against the ethos of the medical profession; and eroded continuity of care for patients.
He also warned about the dangers of relying on locum doctors who are not always familiar with the British health system.
Health Minister Simon Burns said he shared his concerns but said there had been an 11% drop in the number of locum doctors since the coalition came to power, and an increase of 4,000 doctors.
DUP MP Ian Paisley Junior quoted the president of the Royal College of Physicians, Sir Richard Thompson, as saying the directive is a "complete disaster" for patient care and quality of training.
"The over-regulatory practice put upon us by Brussels is destroying this country," he argued, added that the sooner the government realised this, the better.
Labour MP Kate Green agreed. She said it should not be for bureaucrats in Europe to decide how hospitals are run in individual states.
She also criticised successive governments for "misguidedly" signing up to European regulations without the public's approval; adding that it was "time" for voters to be consulted on the UK's relationship with Europe.
Shadow heath spokesman Andrew Gwynne said Labour supported the Working Time Directive.
Relaxing it risked a gradual return to junior doctors working "dangerously long hours", he argued, and urged the government to approach the matter carefully.
Winding up the debate for the government, Mr Burns acknowledged the regulations posed problems for the health service.
He said the government wanted to see an amended directive offering more flexibility - particularly in areas of on call time and compensatory rest - provided a workable opt-out can be maintained.
Ms Leslie said she was encouraged by the minister's remarks but pledged to continue campaigning on the subject.
Backbench Business Committee
The session opened with a brief discussion on the work of the Backbench Business Committee, which was established in 2010.
Labour's Natascha Engel told MPs it had been an "absolutely tremendous privilege" to chair the committee which she said enabled backbenchers to collectively hold the government to account.
She praised the relationship of co-operation between the government and the committee.
However, she criticised the "ad hoc" nature of the time allocation for the committee, which prevented it from planning ahead, and called for minority MPs to be represented on the panel.