‘A RETURN to the days where doctors and nurses work 90-hour weeks would be bad for patient safety, for staff and for the NHS,’ chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Chaand Nagpaul said yesterday warning the Tories not to use Brexit as an excuse to attack the working time regulations.
In a letter signed by 13 medical associations and royal colleges, the prime minister is warned of the consequences that scrapping the working time regulations would have.
Removing that limit on the working week would risk a return to excessive working hours which would ‘jeopardise patient safety’.
It says: ‘As the representatives of doctors, nursing staff and midwives in the UK, we are deeply concerned by reports that there is support within government for the removal of the Working Time Regulations (WTR) from UK law following the UK’s departure from the European Union.
‘Dealing with and preventing the effects of excessive working is crucial not only because of the impact on individuals and their families, but also because of the wider consequences it poses to patient safety.’
It adds: ‘It is not in the interests of either staff or patients to relax or move away from the safeguarding protections introduced by the WTR, namely the limit of an average 48-hour working week, rest breaks and statutory paid leave, especially when there is, of course, the existing option for all workers to voluntarily opt out of these regulations.
‘With health and care services under more pressure than ever before, and staff being called upon to work ever longer hours, what is needed is proper resourcing and investment to increase our workforce, not the removal of safeguards.’
Signatories to the letter include the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of GPs and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
The letter comes amid concerns that some government ministers appear to want to amend existing legislation on working time following Brexit.
BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said that removal of safeguards against excessive working hours would risk a return to the ‘bad old days’ of NHS doctors working 90-hour weeks.
He said: ‘The Working Time Regulations are not only vital for the wellbeing of staff but also because, as medical professionals, the safety of our patients is our number one priority. We can all agree that no one wants a return to the days where doctors and nurses were working 90-hour weeks – it would be bad for patient safety, bad for staff and bad for the NHS.
‘With unprecedented staff shortages and pressure currently facing the health service, it is crucial that doctors’, nurses’ and midwives’ concerns over unsafe working conditions are heard.’
Janet Davies, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the RCN, said: ‘Working time regulations are there to protect patients.
‘Nurses are driven to do the best they can for their patients, but however dedicated, clinical staff overtired from working excessive hours could become a risk to the very people they are trying to treat.
‘Working time regulations put an end to the excessive hours of the past, and in doing so made care safer.
‘It should be clear to the government that removing or weakening working time regulations would put patients at serious risk.’