EU Working Time Directive Changes Could Put Patients At Risk

The EU working time directive was introduced throughout Europe to provide protection to citizens by restricting working hours, giving them regular rest breaks, health and safety protection as well as the right to paid holiday. However, with the British government looking at the possibility of scrapping the regulations when the UK leaves the EU in 2019, concerns are being raised among medical professions that the safety of patients could be compromised if rules were relaxed or removed altogether.

A letter to the government said that, even with the EU regulations “fatigue, caused by excessive overwork, remains an occupational hazard for many staff at the NHS” This is an opinion shared by The Royal College or Nursing who are one of the signatories of the letter. Representative from the British doctors and nursing staff have warned that the loss of these regulations, along with less EU born nurses and midwives working in the NHS, could put a massive strain on services which would put the lives of patients at risk.

The UK government is currently discussing possible changes to the current entitlements under the working time directive. However, leaders from the British Medical Association, along with trade unions and representatives from royal colleges are strongly opposed to scrapping the laws and claim that it could massively impact the level of care and put patients at risk. Medical leaders have also demanded a guarantee from Theresa May that workers will adequately protected post-brexit.

According to the letter from the BMA and other medical organisations “Twenty-five years ago, the phenomenon of health professionals working 90-hour weeks, and the attendant risks this posed, was all too common in the NHS. The worst excesses of these working arrangements were only curtailed following the arrival of EU-derived legislation limiting hours.”

Signatories to the letter include Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “Nurses are driven to do the best they can for their patients, but however dedicated, clinical staff overtired from working excessive hours could become a risk to the very people they are trying to treat. Working time regulations put an end to the excessive hours of the past, and in doing so made care safer. It should be clear to the government that removing or weakening working time regulations would put patients at serious risk.”

Theresa May has commented that the claims were not true and that there are no government plans to remove the legislation. She also said that they intended to “not only maintain but also enhance workers’ rights”. There are hopes among medical professionals that she will stand by this and guarantee workers rights as part of UK law.

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