Medical staff and long working hours


Sir, – Prof David Cotter highlights the regular 65 to 70-hour working weeks expected of our medical interns (Letters, January 20th).

The grim reality is that shifts of 24 hours (and sometimes more) are still widely expected of and worked by non-consultant hospital doctors across the country.

This practice of routine sleep deprivation in medical training was championed by the US surgeon William Stewart Halsted (1852–1922), who expected his trainees to work for days without sleep, a feat he only managed through his cocaine addiction.

Apart from the detrimental effect on doctors’ physical and mental health, why, in an age when it is accepted that going without sleep for 17 or more hours results in the equivalent cognitive deficits to being over the legal drink driving limit, are we forfeiting patient safety to the whims of a 19th-century surgeon with a drug addiction? – Yours, etc,


Senior Registrar

in Psychiatry,

Dublin 6W.