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Grieving father: junior doctor hours require urgent review

THE father of a junior doctor who died driving home from a hospital night shift has called for an overhaul of working practices amid concerns about the intense workload placed on new medics.

tiredness: Dr Lauren Connelly worked a series of long shifts at Inverclyde Royal Hospital before she was involved in a fatal crash.
tiredness: Dr Lauren Connelly worked a series of long shifts at Inverclyde Royal Hospital before she was involved in a fatal crash.

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

She had just finished her first 12-hour night shift at Inverclyde Royal Hospital in Greenock when she was involved in the fatal crash and her father, Brian Connelly, believes she was suffering from fatigue which had built up over the previous month-and-a-half.

Mr Connelly has trawled through hospital rotas his daughter had kept and has decided to share them because he is anxious about the impact such hours are having on other young doctors and on the patients they care for.

He said: "I do not want any parent to have to experience what we have experienced and nor do I want any young individuals, as enthusiastic and as talented as young junior doctors are, to be put into a state where they are putting their own lives at risk."

Analysis: Junior doctors have little time to eat or sleep

Comment: time for honesty on doctors hours

Dr Connelly, who was 23 when she died, took up her job at Inverclyde Royal on August 3, 2011 and, her father says, she had to work the first 10 days in a row, including one half-day and four days of 12 hours or more - a total of 91.5 hours.

The following week, Mr Connelly says, she worked 44 hours, then got the weekend off before entering a 12-day run of 107 hours-plus.

The week she died she had completed four day shifts in a row and was starting a run of seven nights back-to-back when she was killed, on September 17.

Dr Connelly lived with her parents in East Kilbride and her father said on top of these rostered hours she was regularly home later than planned.

He said: "I am pretty sure every single day she would do in excess of the rostered shift time by at least one or two hours in order to finish off the work. Her work was like that because she was on an orthopaedic ward. I think it was the responsibility of the junior doctors to make sure a number of activities were carried out on the patients. For example, if someone had not got their blood taken or something else done by a certain time then their operation would not have taken place the next day."

Mr Connelly, 61, added: "Every single day my wife would give her a packed lunch and just about every single day it came home uneaten. The reason? Because they had no opportunity to take breaks. It was a pretty relentless regime and Lauren's life was really around work and coming home to rest."

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.

Mr Connelly said there had been one occasion when his daughter had rung home at 11pm, two hours after she had been due to finish, and asked for a lift because she felt too tired to drive.

Almost two years after Dr Connelly died, the Crown Office ruled there would be no fatal accident inquiry into her death in part because she had made the decision to drive that day when feeling tired herself.

Mr Connelly said: "I do not think

there is sufficient recognition of the effects of the intensity of the job, the working hours and the impact that causes. Fatigue affects young doctors' judgment in making the right decisions about themselves and patients."

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.

Mr Connelly is calling for the European Working Time Directive to be implemented in spirit as well as on paper, for the actual hours which junior doctors work to be recorded - not just their rostered shifts - for hospitals to ensure they are able to take scheduled breaks and for junior doctors' rest rooms to be reinstated.

In a statement, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: "All rotas for junior doctors are fully compliant with both the New Deal for junior doctors and the EWTD with the exception of four rotas in highly skilled surgical specialties. We are working hard in partnership with our junior doctors to achieve compliance with the New Deal for these four rotas. Our rotas are also fully agreed in partnership with staff representatives."

The board added any junior doctor who believed their rota was not compliant with the law should report the problem immediately.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We continue to support NHS boards in ensuring rotas are well designed and meet all the limits of the working time regulations.

"The Scottish Government has invested significantly in new and expanded roles to support the reduction in hours."

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