DOCTORS must have at least 46 hours rest after a string of night shifts in order to combat fatigue at work, according to a new ‘Sleep Charter’ compiled by doctors’ union BMA which insists that doctors must get enough sleep to treat patients safely.
Junior doctors organised multiple strikes during 2015 and 2016 against a new contract eventually imposed on them by Tory Health Secretary Hunt which they rightly warned was unsafe for patients as it forced them to work so many hours that they became dog tired. There have been reports of doctors falling asleep at the wheel, crashing their cars on the way home after extremely long shifts.
The BMA has compiled the ‘Sleep Charter’ which states that hospital rotas should be designed with no more than four long shifts in a row, a maximum of seven consecutive shifts and no more than 72 hours in a 168-hour period. Dedicated rest areas, separate from routine break rooms and located away from kitchens, must be available round-the-clock every day to provide medics with a quiet place to nap.
It said catering facilities on site must also be open 365 days a year with hot food available for at least two hours between 11pm and 7am, with ‘healthy eating and vegetarian options’ available. Staff must also have access to changing facilities and showers, a study area with internet, a television lounge and a kitchen supplied with hob, microwave, toaster, fridge, freezer, kettle, coffee machine, tea, coffee, milk and bread. The charter had been drawn up following recent research by the BMA highlighting the dangers of long working hours.
In Scotland, the problem of fatigue among junior medics was brought into sharp focus following the car crash death of Lauren Connelly, 23, in 2011. Dr Connelly had been driving home after a 12-hour shift at Inverclyde Royal Hospital. It is thought she may have lost control of the vehicle after falling asleep at the wheel.
Her father, Brian Connelly, said his daughter had been exhausted working ten and 12-day stretches without a day off during the seven weeks prior to her death. It led Health Secretary Shona Robison to pledge a cap on junior doctors’ hours of 48 hours per week, without averaging, but in March 2017 she told Connelly this was ‘unachievable’ due to staffing shortages. BMA junior doctors’ committee chair, Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya, said: ‘Fatigue can have a devastating impact on both the health and wellbeing of doctors and consequently to the care a patient receives.’