Doctors not compliant with working hour limits until 2017

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: Significant reconfiguration of hospital service required

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar told the Dáil last week that the Government was committed to achieving compliance with the provisions of the directive. Photograph: The Irish Times

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar told the Dáil last week that the Government was committed to achieving compliance with the provisions of the directive. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

It will be 2017 at the earliest before most non-consultant hospital doctors see their working hours complying with limits set out in an EU directive, the HSE has told the Government.

In an updated implementation plan submitted to the Department of Health in February, the HSE said in some instances compliance with the 48-hour week stipulated in the directive could not be be achieved without significant service reconfiguration.

In an opinion published this month the advocate general at the European Court of Justice maintained that Ireland was in breach of the EU’s working time directive in relation to the working hours of non-consultant doctors.

If this is upheld by the European Court of Justice in a ruling due later this year, Ireland could face significant fines.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said measures within the HSE report to improve compliance included the recruitment of extra non-consultant hospital doctors and consultants, the transfer of some non-consultant hospital doctor tasks to other grades, the reconfiguration of acute services in conjunction with the implementation of a smaller hospitals framework and the development of the national maternity strategy, and a single national paediatric hospital to replace three existing stand-alone paediatric hospitals.

Workers’ welfare

The EU directive sets out a number of measures to protect workers’ welfare and safety. These include:

 

  • A maximum 48-hour working week, averaged over a reference period;
  • A 20-minute break for every 4½ hours worked or a 30-minute break for every six hours worked;
  • Eleven hours daily rest or equivalent compensatory rest and 35 hours consecutive rest every seven days; or two periods of 35 hours or one period of 59 hours of consecutive rest every 14 days.

However, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), which represents non-consultant hospital doctors, has consistently maintained that these rules are being widely breached.

Mr Varadkar told the Dáil last week that the Government was committed to achieving compliance with the provisions of the directive.

Significant progress

He said the HSE had made “significant progress” in implementing the directive for non-consultant hospital doctors, particularly in the last year.

 

He said the HSE was close to achieving full compliance with the directive apart from on the issue of the 48-hour working week.

He said in this area compliance stood at 68 per cent at the end of January 2015.

He said this was up from a figure of 40 per cent compliance in the last quarter of 2013, and 30 per cent compliance in 2011.

In a written answer to a parliamentary question by Paul Murphy of the Socialist Party, the Minster said the HSE had achieved 98 per cent compliance with 30-minute daily rest breaks, 95 per cent compliance with 11- hour daily rest breaks, and 98 per cent compliance with weekly/fortnightly rest breaks in the past two years.