§ Mr. Bellingham
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services what steps he is taking to reduce the hours of work of junior hospital medical and dental staff.
§ Mr. Newton
I am today publishing a new scheme to reduce the hours of work of junior hospital doctors and dentists. Under the scheme, local professional working parties will be set up in every district to advise on the elimination, wherever possible, of regular rota commitments which require a junior to be on duty, on average,580W more than one night and weekend in three. This initiative will be carried forward in conjunction with a systematic review to assess the number of medical staff required in each region to provide essential support for consultants in the acute specialties.
Some progress has already been made as a result of action taken in 1982 to ban regular rota commitments for junior hospital medical staff more onerous than one night or weekend in every two, and to set one night or weekend in every three as the target maximum commitment. The number of rotas more onerous than one in three in England fell from 5,000 in 1982 to 3,500 in 1985, representing in the latter year less than 20 per cent. of junior posts. The average number of contracted hours of duty fell from 87.7 in 1982 to 85.7 in 1986. As reported by juniors themselves, average weekly hours of work (as distinct from hours of duty) fell from 58.3 in 1981 to 57 in 1985.
There remains nevertheless a significant number of juniors whose commitments are undesirably heavy: a recent survey identified 1,463 juniors in England whose contracted hours of duty exceeded 104 per week, which is broadly equivalent to a one in two rota. We have therefore concluded that further measures are needed to reinforce the progress already made.
We are establishing a scheme under which, in every district health authority, local professional working parties will be set up to advise on the elimination wherever possible of regular rota commitments which require a junior to be on duty more than one night or weekend in every three. This will be accompanied by a systematic assessment of the number of medical staff required in each region to provide essential support for consultants in the acute specialties, which is itself part of the "Achieving a Balance" programme for reforming the hospital medical staffing structure.
Details of the scheme are set out in circular EL(88)P82, which is being sent to health authorities this week and of which a copy has been placed in the Library.