THE father of a junior doctor who is believed to have died after falling asleep while driving died has welcomed new rules guaranteeing trainee medics a minimum rest period of 46 hours following a string of night-shifts.

The 46-hour rule will come into effect from August 2019 and apply after blocks of three or four consecutive night-shifts.

Fears over long working hours and fatigue was brought into sharp focus in 2011 when 23-year-old junior doctor Lauren Connelly was killed after her car veered off the M8 motorway as she drove home from a 12-hour night-shift at Inverclyde Royal Hospital in Greenock.

Dr Connelly, from East Kilbride in Lanarkshire, had been seven weeks into her medical training at the time.

Her father, Brian Connelly, said his daughter frequently worked exhausting 100-hour weeks and shift patterns of 12 consecutive days, and has since campaigned alongside the BMA for stricter limits on working hours.

Mr Connelly said the 46-hour rest break rule was “very welcome”. However, he stressed that it was equally important that young medics were not overly tired at the point when they embark on a block of night-shifts.

Mr Connelly said: “It’s important that they come to night-shifts already refreshed. I would certainly hope that the shifts junior doctors are working are not ‘front-loaded’ so that they have already worked a significant number of hours prior to commencing the night-shifts, otherwise they are going to continue to be tired while working the night-shifts.”

The 46-hour rule will come into effect from August 2019 and apply after blocks of three or four consecutive night-shifts.

It builds on previous measures intended to make junior doctors’ rotas safer, including abolishing seven night-shifts in a row.

The Scottish Government has also committed to capping junior doctors working week at 48 hours, without averaging.

Under the European Working Time Directive (EWTD), the working week is limited to 48 hours, but health boards can comply with the law by averaging hours over six months.

An expert working group chaired by Professor Philip Cachia has been established to steer its introduction and is expected to make recommendations in Spring 2019.

Mr Connelly said: “It’s not a question of if but how, so I’m pleased about that. I’ve always said the EWTD needs to be implemented in spirit as a health and safety measure, as well as technically where shift hours are simply compliant on paper.

The working party is to be welcomed and I very much hope they make recommendations that the Scottish Government is able to implement and to a timescale that is not too drawn out.”

The 48-hour working week pledge was originally made by former Health Secretary Shona Robison in 2015, but in 2017 - in a letter to Mr Connelly - she said the BMA felt that a 48-hour limit was "unachievable given the need to maintain a good standard of training for doctors and a safe service for patients".

BMA Scotland said the dangers of excessive working hours had to be balanced against the risk from staff shortages.

However, the Scottish Government subsequently reiterated its commitment to cap junior doctors' hours at 48 hours in each single week.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “An expert working group, chaired by Professor Philip Cachia, is being established to consider the challenges of the maximum 48 hour working week and recommend which approach to its introduction is most appropriate. It is expected to report back in Spring 2019.”

Dr Adam Collins, chair of BMA Scotland’s Junior Doctors’ Committee, said: “Evidence shows that moving from night shifts to day shifts is one of the biggest causes of exhaustion we face in our working patterns. Fatigue is a risk to junior doctors and a risk to our patients, which is why securing a safer approach to rostering doctors has been my highest priority as chair.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman added: “This change means junior doctors will be able to focus on their training and work on safe, sustainable rotas that allow them to be fit for work and well rested.”