HC Deb 23 May 1985 vol 79 cc536-7W
Mr. Hoyle

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) if he will assess the effect on patient care of the hours worked by junior hospital doctors;

(2) how many junior hospital doctors currently work in excess of the agreed maximum of 84 hours per week;

(3) how many junior hospital doctors currently work in excess of 60 hours per week.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

We do not have information in the form requested. The average number of hours for which junior hospital doctors are contracted is 87.3. This comprises a basic working week of 40 hours, plus additional times spent working, standing-by in hospital, or available on-call at home, and includes provision for covering the annual and study leave of colleagues where appropriate. The hours spent actually working will be considerably fewer than those contracted; a survey commissioned by the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration in 1981 and published in its 12th report (1982, Cmnd. 8550) indicated an average of 55.3 hours.

For some time we have accepted that the long hours required of some junior doctors are not in their interests, nor those of patients. It is for this reason that in 1983 we banned rotas requiring any junior doctor to be on duty on average for more than one night and one weekend in every two. At the same time we asked health authorities to conduct a major review of rotas more onerous than one in three, which are roughly equivalent to 84 hours a week. By the end of that year, the number of such rotas had fallen or was planned to fall by 20 per cent. from 5,000 to 4,000. We expect authorities to keep the need for the most onerous rotas under continuing review, and have set rotas of one in three or better as the target maximum commitment for the future. This year we have asked authorities to take steps to relieve the pressure on those doctors likely to have a heavy burden of out-of-hours work where there is no immediate prospect of improving their rotas. We estimate that the number of doctors in this category is unlikely to be more than 2,000 or under 10 per cent. of all juniors.

The Government are committed to the aim of reducing the excessive hours of some junior doctors and we have the support and agreement of the leaders and representatives of the medical profession. We will continue to make progress if we can secure the co-operation of the profession at local level in every Authority.

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