HEALTH boards have been urged to order the widespread reintroduction of staff beds in hospitals to allow under-pressure doctors to sleep while on breaks or before driving home.
The Scottish Government this week announced plans to ease the strain on junior doctors, saying shift patterns that see them at work for seven consecutive days or nights must end. NHS officials were also told staff must have access to appropriate rest facilities.
While the Government did not elaborate on what it considers appropriate, Tom Berry, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association Scotland's junior doctors committee, said the policy should mean the provision of beds and dark, quiet rooms in hospitals where staff on busy shifts could take a "power nap" either during or after shifts.
Dr Richard Simpson, Labour MSP and his party's public health spokesman, backed the calls, saying he knew of one junior doctor who regularly pulled over on the hard shoulder to sleep while driving home from Lanarkshire to Edinburgh after intense periods of work.
The move to cut the number of consecutive shifts for junior doctors came in response to the death of Dr Lauren Connelly, 23, who was killed in an accident on the M8 after seven intense weeks in her first job. Her father Brian Connelly blamed her death on fatigue, saying she had worked 10 days in a row after starting work at Inverclyde Royal Hospital in Greenock and had completed another 12-day run of more than 107 hours in the weeks before the fatal crash in 2011.
Dr Simpson, a former GP and hospital consultant, said while he had performed longer hours when he was in training, periods of work had never been as intense as they are currently.
"They're doing more work in 48 hours than we did in 90," he said. "They should have appropriate rest rooms and adequate nutrition. It's not mollycoddling; it's responsible support for a very important part of the workforce."
Mr Berry, a surgical registrar, said that beds for doctors were once routinely provided in hospitals. "When I started, there would be a little room to lie down in, but I know that room in that hospital is now gone," he added. "We feel there is good evidence that to rest properly, people need to be reclined somewhere quiet and dimly lit or dark, not in a tea room.
"It'll be interesting to see how much is set by Government and how much is left to local decision-making. I hope some minimum requirements will be set."
The Government said no trainee doctor will work seven consecutive night shifts from February next year, while it is anticipated that by 2016, no junior doctor will work more than seven day shifts in a row.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "This is only part of the broader work we are taking forward with boards and junior doctors representatives to improving the work-life balance of junior doctors.
"Over the summer we will be developing a model to ensure boards are taking the necessary steps on rest facilities and improving rotas."