Gordon Brown may say he is doing everything he can to support jobs and businesses in the recession - but just last month his colleagues in the European Parliament did the opposite when they voted to end Britain's opt out from the European Working Time Directive. Many others have already pointed out that this puts additional strains on British employers and employees at exactly the time they need it least.
However, if you think this is just an issue on the factory floor and doesn't affect you please then think again. Please think about the implications if you, or a member of your family, are of suddenly in need of emergency care in one of our Hospitals.
Last week the Royal College of Surgeons warned that warned that “Patients across the country will be placed at risk and their quality of care will suffer as hospitals prepare for the full implementation of EU regulation to reduce doctor’s hours to 48 hours per week by August 2009. The Royal College of Surgeons has learnt that unsafe levels of staffing are already starting to be experienced as the UK is running out of available surgeons to fill the gaps in NHS rotas." Their conclusions are reached after hearing the concerns of over 500 different surgeons from across the UK.
As a doctors wife I often listen to doctors having heated discussions about what is happening in the NHS and try to consider what the implications may be for my family. These are my thoughts:
1. Most medical professionals are extremely hard working and dedicated - they usually shy from being "political" in public as the last thing they want to do is undermine patient confidence - When we hear statements like that above we should listen.
2. No-body wants doctors to work dangerously long or anti social hours that put patients lives at risk.
3. Before qualifying as a surgeon, junior doctors need to observe many hours of different operations. If I am ever under the knife of a newly qualified surgeon then I want to know that they have had the benefit of watching many others before them. I understand that it is extremely challenging to achieve this level of experience in just 48 hours a week.
4. In addition, in certain specialities it is necessary to have long on-call hours to make sure that emergencies (like emergency surgery) can be covered when the need occurs. I understand that in Germany, medical professionals have suggested that a 61hour week is acceptable. We should listen to our professionals and allow them the flexibility they require.
Nearly two years ago I joined junior doctors campaigning against the MTAS scandal (see the picture). I heard many trainee surgeons explain how this has already reduced training hours. Back then the junior doctors held up a "You're Fired" poster, to emphasise that, due to government incompetence, highly skilled people were exiting the UK. Today, hundreds of thousands of people face an uncertain future and we should not allow our government to make the situation worse.
Tomorrow I will visit one of our hospitals with Geoffrey Van Orden, a member of the European Parliament who voted to keep the opt out. We will meet one of the elected members of the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons and we hope to learn more about this critical issue from those on the front line.