HC Deb 03 November 1987 vol 121 cc697-8W
Mr. Galbraith

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will set a statutory limit on the number of hours worked by junior doctors; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Fearn

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he has any plans to reduce the average working hours of junior doctors.

Mr. Newton

[holding answers 30 October and 3 November 1987]: The Government have accepted that the excessive hours traditionally required of some junior doctors are neither in their interests nor those of their patients. We have agreed with the representatives of the medical profession that, while the impetus to reduce such hours has to come from the Department, changes in working practices can only be identified and implemented locally, with the full support and co-operation of all the practitioners concerned, rather than through statutory limitations. We have already instructed health authorities to eliminate regular rotas requiring a practitioner to be on duty, on average, for more than one night in two and one weekend in two, and we have asked them to aim for a target maximum commitment of one in three or better, where practicable. We estimate that the number of posts with rotas more onerous than one in three fell or was planned to fall between 1982 and 1985 from 5,000 to 3,500. There are currently some 1,520 posts, representing about 7 per cent. of the total, with weekly contracted hours of over 104, although the average figure has fallen in every year since 1979, from over 90 to 85.7. These are hours of duty, rather than work: independent surveys commissioned by the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration show that the average weekly hours actually worked, as reported by juniors themselves, have also fallen, from 58.3 in 1981 to 57 in 1985. Officials will shortly be discussing with the profession's representatives how best to make further progress in this direction, in the context of the measures to reform the hospital medical staffing structure which I announced on 27 October at column 258. These are principally designed to increase the involvement of consultants in direct patient care and supervision of juniors, to maintain necessary levels of support for consultants, and to improve juniors' career prospects and job security, thus in turn helping to solve the recruitment difficulties experienced in some specialties.