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First Minister to meet father of tragic doctor

THE father of a junior doctor who died driving home after working long hours at a hospital has welcomed an offer to discuss the pressures faced by new medics with the First Minister.

DR LAUREN CONNOLLY: Junior doctor died in a car accident on her way home from hospital.
DR LAUREN CONNOLLY: Junior doctor died in a car accident on her way home from hospital.

Alex Salmond yesterday agreed to meet Brian Connelly after his daughter Lauren's death was raised during First Minister's Questions. The First Minister said discussions should take place with doctors' leaders to determine whether improvements could be made to working hours.

Dr Connelly was killed in an accident on the M8 in 2011, seven weeks into her first job after graduating in medicine from Glasgow University.

Her father, 61, who lives in East Kilbride, believes she was suffering from intense fatigue built up over the previous weeks of long shifts. He has called for an overhaul of working practices.

At Holyrood, Labour's health spokesman Neil Findlay urged Mr Salmond to discuss the issue in person with him and Mr Connelly. He said: "Lauren's father is not looking for someone to blame; he just wants to ensure no other junior doctor has the same experience as Lauren, and that no-one else suffers the grief and misery his family has suffered."

Mr Salmond, who offered condolences to Dr Connelly's family and friends on behalf of the parliament, said he would be happy to discuss the issue with her father and Mr Findlay. He told MSPs: "Junior doctors work no more than 48 hours per week on average. We continue our work with NHS boards and professional bodies to review best practice and how it can be used to improve the working lives of junior doctors."

He agreed constant monitoring and discussions with the British Medical Association should take place to seek improvements. But he added: "The average number of hours per week that junior doctors work has reduced from 58 hours in 2004 to up to 48 hours today."

He added: "We are perfectly happy to have meetings to discuss how further improvements can be made, but let us recognise … there has been progress and let us hope further progress can be made."

Mr Connelly said: "I very much welcome the opportunity to meet the First Minister and his colleagues to help them understand the working hours and the actual hours junior doctors work.

"I would hope to enlist their support in making long-overdue changes that are going to help not only junior doctors but also to improve patient care."

Mr Findlay also welcomed the move, saying: "Lauren's story is heartbreaking and it's very brave of her father to speak publicly about the pressures facing junior doctors. The system must be reviewed because it's unacceptable junior doctors work 10-hour plus, often much longer, shifts for days and days at a time."

Although health boards across Scotland comply with European legislation limiting junior doctors' working hours to 48 a week, they do this by averaging hours worked over a period of six months.

As part of a campaign calling for a review of hospital and social care capacity, The Herald has revealed some health boards are still rostering junior doctors to work 90 hours or more a week.

Safety experts and Labour and LibDem MSPs have backed Mr Connelly's call for a review of working practices.

Professor Rory O'Neill, of Stirling University, the editor of environmental health magazine Hazards, highlighted a US study in 2005 which warned of the high risks faced by medical interns who got behind the wheel when over-tired. He warned that "severely fatigued workers can be as incapable behind the wheel as drink-drivers".

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