Government welcomes taskforce recommendations on the impact of Working Time Directive on the NHS


21 / 7 / 2014 3.37pm

The Government has today welcomed the recommendations of an independent taskforce, which included NHS Employers, on the impact of the Working Time Directive on the NHS. 

Under the Working Time Directive, doctors and trainee doctors are restricted to working a maximum of 48 hours per week on average over a six month period, unless they voluntarily opt-out. Within the NHS this has contributed to overly rigid shift patterns, affecting time for training.

Following the report, significant changes will be considered so doctors can train and work more flexibly.

A taskforce of experts including NHS Employers, the British Medical Association (BMA) and Royal Colleges was commissioned by the health secretary in October 2013 to review the impact and implementation of the WTD on training of doctors and quality of patient care in the UK, and to recommend solutions to problems identified. The taskforce's report was submitted to the Government in March 2014, with six key recommendations including:

  • reviewing best practice in the design of working practices, sharing examples of successful patient care delivery
  • ensuring the findings of the report are taken into account in the ongoing contract negotiations
  • exploring the possibility of creating protected education and training time for junior 

Responding in a media statement, Dean Royles said: 

“Employers were clear in the review that patient and staff safety are our prime concern. We have no desire to return to excessive working hours which would be bad for patients and for doctors. It is clear that the majority of professional bodies believe the Working Time Directive has been implemented in a way that maintains safe and effective training of doctors. It is ten years after implementation of the Directive and they have provided the Taskforce with plenty of evidence. It is important this is shared widely. We wanted recommendations that give stability and enable effective planning.
“The participation of NHS Employers and the British Medical Association in the Taskforce means the parties have already been able to consider the report's carefully developed recommendations in the current talks about junior doctors’ contracts, particularly all the evidence and case studies showing how careful, considered implementation is key. It is through those contract negotiations that doctors can have a framework to work in that puts patients first and supports sensible working hours."

Elisabetta Zanon, Director of the NHS European Office, said: "The NHS European Office is actively pressing for sensible changes that would allow greater flexibility in providing round-the-clock services for patients, whilst continuing to safeguard healthcare workers from excessive tiredness. We are working for the NHS by putting these views to the European Commission, who are currently looking at the impact of European working time rules across a range of countries, including the UK. They will take these views into account when consulting on possible changes to the Working Time Directive. We expect the Commission to issue a new proposal for Working Time rules next year."

Read more on our European Working Time Directive, Junior doctors contract negotiations and Consultant contract negotiations web pages. 

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