NHS medical professionals are to be given greater flexibility in terms of the hours they spend working and training following a new review of the impact of the European Working Time Directive on healthcare workers.
The independent review was led by former Royal College of Surgeons president Professor Norman Williams and found that on the whole, the European legislation has had a beneficial impact, helping to prevent doctors from working overly long hours that undermine patient safety.
However, it was also suggested that doctors in certain specialty areas would benefit from more flexibility in order to give them the time they need to complete their training and provide a full and thorough range of services.
Under the terms of 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. This has led to many improvements, but also created rigid shift patterns, according to the government.
In order to improve the current system, the Department of Health is looking to explore new options, such as identifying training time that could be separated from work-related activities, meaning it would be considered separately from the 48-hour weekly limit.
Efforts will also be made to raise awareness of the voluntary opt-out for those who wish to do so and are able to safely.This would allow doctors to spend extra time on training activities, which would be useful for specialities such as surgery.
Finally, a review of working patterns and rotas will be undertaken to ensure they are being organised flexibly and effectively.
Secretary of state for health Jeremy Hunt said: "Doctors should have the flexibility they need to access the training they want. This would lead to better care."
He added: "It is clear that the directive does have a negative impact on the training of doctors in some specialities. We will now look at how training and working time could be separately identified so we can give doctors the flexibility they need."
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