JUNIOR doctors in Scotland will be guaranteed a minimum rest period of 46 hours following a string of night-shifts in a bid to cut fatigue.
Trainee medics in Scotland will follow their counterparts in England to have the mandatory recovery period written into their contract.
The 46-hour rule will come into effect from August 2019 and apply after blocks of three or four consecutive night-shifts.
Read more: Doctor fatigue ‘putting lives of patients at risk’
It builds on previous measures intended to make junior doctors’ rotas safer, including reducing the maximum number of working days to seven and abolishing seven night-shifts in a row.
Fears over long working hours and tiredness was brought into sharp focus in 2011 when 23-year-old junior doctor Lauren Connelly was killed after her car veered off the M8 motorway as she drove home from a 12-hour night-shift at Inverclyde Royal Hospital in Greenock.
Dr Connelly, from East Kilbride in Lanarkshire, had been seven weeks into her medical training at the time.
Her father, Brian Connelly, said his daughter frequently worked exhausting 100-hour weeks and shift patterns of 12 consecutive days, and has since campaigned alongside the BMA for stricter limits on working hours.
Read more: Health minister ‘wriggling out’ of pledge on 48 hour working week for junior doctors
Dr Adam Collins, chair of BMA Scotland’s Junior Doctors’ Committee, said: “I am delighted that we have been able to reach agreement on implementing these measures that will make a tangible difference to the working lives of junior doctors.
“Evidence shows that moving from night shifts to day shifts is one of the biggest causes of exhaustion we face in our working patterns.
“Fatigue is a risk to junior doctors and a risk to our patients, which is why securing a safer approach to rostering doctors has been my highest priority as chair.”
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman added: “We want our NHS to be the best place for junior doctors to work and train, and these improvements to employment and working patterns show that we continue to lead the way.
“This change means junior doctors will be able to focus on their training and work on safe, sustainable rotas that allow them to be fit for work and well rested.”
Read more: One junior doctor left to care for 100 patients in some Scotish hospitals
Scotland was the first country to abolish blocks of seven consecutive night-shifts in 2015, but it has lagged behind England on the 46-hour rest break which was introduced as part of the new junior doctors’ contract for England in 2016.
There has also been frustration over delays to plans to deliver 48 hour working weeks for junior doctors in Scotland without averaging.
Under the European Working Time Directive, the working week is capped at 48 hours, but health boards can comply with the law by averaging the time staff spend on shift over six months.
In 2015, former Health Secretary Shona Robison pledged to restrict junior doctors to a maximum of 48 hours per week – banning averaging.
However, in a letter to Mr Connelly in 2017, Ms Robison said the BMA felt that a 48-hour limit was “unachievable given the need to maintain a good standard of training for doctors and a safe service for patients”.
BMA Scotland said the dangers of excessive working hours had to be balanced against the risk from staff shortages.
The Scottish Government is currently establishing an expert working group, chaired by Professor Philip Cachia, to consider the challenges of the maximum 48 hour working week and recommend which approach to its introduction is most appropriate.
It is expected to report back in Spring 2019.
In another shake-up, junior doctors in Scotland will shift to a single lead employer throughout their training.
Junior doctors move post regularly throughout their training and this currently results in unnecessary duplication of paperwork and administration, incorrect pay and tax bills, and makes it harder for junior doctors to apply for mortgages.
Under the new arrangements, they will remain employed by one of four health boards regardless of changes in hospital or location.
Source : HeraldScotland