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Pressure to review hours of junior doctors

HEALTH Secretary Alex Neil has come under pressure to review junior doctors' working hours following the tragic case of Dr Lauren Connelly, who died driving home after a hospital night shift.

Experts yesterday highlighted a recent US study which warned of the high risks faced by medical interns who got behind the wheel when tired.

Holyrood's main opposition parties, meanwhile also called for action.

Dr Connelly, 23, was involved in a fatal crash in September returning from Inverclyde Royal Hospital in Greenock.

Her father, Brian Connelly, believes she was fatigued after six weeks of extremely long hours and wants an overhaul of the system.

In 2005 the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health warned junior medics working long shifts were twice as likely to be involved in a car accident leaving work.

They were also five time more likley to have a "near miss" than colleagues on shorter hours.

Professor Rory O'Neill, of Stirling University, the editor of environmental health magazine Hazards, said: "Excessively long shifts have an established link to road traffic accidents - and we have warned previously that young doctors are a high risk group.

"Severely fatigued workers can be as incapable behind the wheel as drunk drivers."

He added: "In the medical setting, fatigue creates a deadly double jeopardy, with both the health worker and those in their care at risk.

"Sensible working hours and shift patterns are essential for the safety of both patients and health care workers."

Scottish Labour's health  spokesman Neil Findlay said: "Health boards have a duty to their staff to provide safe and fair working conditions and scheduling newly qualified junior doctors to work 90 plus hours in a week is a failure of that duty.

"Even if they are complying with the letter of the law by averaging out hours across a number of weeks it is still not reasonable to require anyone to work ­excessively day after day, week after week.

"It seems clear that the system we have is broken and health boards and the Scottish Government must find a way to fix it."

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Jim Hume MSP also called for a review.

A spokeswoman for BMA Scotland said shifts patterns including 90-hour weeks were "not in the spirit" of working time rules.

She added: "There is a growing awareness of the dangers of irregular shift patterns and sleep deprivation on performance.

"In the case of junior doctors, their working arrangements can be detrimental not just to their own health, but to patient care.

The Scottish Government has said it continues to support health boards in ensuring rotas are well designed to meet working time rules.

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