• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

NHS junior doctors have little time to eat or sleep

"BE prepared to be exhausted for your first month working.

CONSTANT PRESSURE: Junior doctors can work 12 days in a row without scheduled rest breaks or time reserved for taking meals. Picture: Colin Mearns
CONSTANT PRESSURE: Junior doctors can work 12 days in a row without scheduled rest breaks or time reserved for taking meals. Picture: Colin Mearns

You will work, eat (little) and sleep. That is it."

This is one of the top tips for medical graduates starting work in Scottish hospitals. It appeared in an official NHS handbook.

Brian Connelly, the father of Dr Lauren Connelly who was killed driving home from a night shift at Inverclyde Royal Hospital in Greenock, found it on the internet shortly after her death.

Another top tip reads: "You will not always get away on time/get lunch/dinner - be prepared for dehydration and hunger. Keep a bottle of water/bar of food nearby so you can avoid your own hypo when dealing with a patient's."

The front cover bears the logo of NHS Education for Scotland (NES) - the body which oversees medical training north of the Border.

Mr Connelly says: "How is this consistent with the employers' duty of care to its employees or the responsibility the NHS has for patient care? The guys at the top need to question whether there is something wrong with this culture. It appears as though there is a feeling that senior staff went through this system, so junior doctors should follow suit."

The booklet containing this section - which was apparently written by junior doctors for their peers - has been withdrawn.

However, Mr Connelly fears the reality for graduates embarking on their careers is little different.

"All you have to do is look at the feedback that they give in surveys," he said. "They are under intense pressure, they are working excessive hours, they are getting no respite."

A survey of 4913 junior doctors in Scotland conducted by the General Medical Council and published earlier this year found almost 20% were short of sleep because of their shift patterns and more than half worked beyond their rostered hours daily or weekly. Some 40% described the intensity of work as heavy or very heavy.

Mr Connelly accepts the training junior doctors receive should be rigorous - but for young, enthusiastic graduates, trying to make their way in the competitive field of medicine, he fears it could be unsafe.

His daughter decided to become a doctor after achieving excellent grades in her Highers and was excited about starting her medical career.

"What Lauren enjoyed most was the patient contact. It matched her personality," Mr Connelly said.

Her whole family were concerned about the hours she worked and Mr Connelly said he and his wife encouraged her to raise the matter with her superior. "I think she did it, but I am not sure," he said. "We are her voice now. I want to speak up for her."

An investigation by The Herald, conducted as part of the news-paper's campaign calling for a review of hospital and social care capacity, revealed some health boards were still rostering doctors to work 90 hours or more a week.

Dr David Reid, chairman of the Scottish Junior Doctors Committee, said: "Although all the rotas are compliant with the European Working Time Directive they are not necessarily in the spirit of what the law intended."

He said junior doctors could be rostered to work up to 12 days in a row and do not have scheduled breaks, so can sometimes struggles to stop for food during shifts.

"It is a very difficult transition from student life to work as a doctor," he added. "The ability to prioritise can be a big issue."

In the past two years steps have been taken to help graduates adjust to their first job, including paying newcomers for work shadowing and induction periods.

NES said it takes the issues of junior doctor workload and the safety of patients and trainees "very seriously indeed".

A spokesman said: "These are constantly monitored as part of our quality management of all training programmes."

Mr Connelly wants health boards to be more honest about the time young doctors spend on the wards, but he says MSPs have a part to play ensuring the NHS has the resources to staff hospitals without exhausting doctors.

He said: "There are fundamental things which irrespective of economic pressures elsewhere should not be shortchanged. Some of those relate to the welfare of the junior doctor and their ability to carry out the function on which we all depend."

Contextual targeting label: 
Health

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

198902