August 6, 2008

Recruitment Drive to Ease Pressure on Organ Swap Docs

By Gareth Rose

HEALTH chiefs plan to stage a recruitment drive to ease pressure on overworked junior transplant doctors in the Lothians.

The group are among the hardest working medics in the country putting in up to 57 hours a week - slightly higher than the 56-hour target. Patients fear tiredness will lead to mistakes and have called on NHS Lothian and the Scottish Government to take action.

Most medics - like all workers - have to meet a European Working Time Regulation of no more than 48 hours a week. However, this will not apply for junior doctors until August next year.

NHS Lothian is a 'centre of excellence', pioneering pancreas and liver transplants, which are only carried out in a few UK hospitals.

This means people can be brought to the Capital from all over the country for an operation, but they have to take place when organs become available, such as after an accident, so are impossible to plan and often need to take place at evenings or weekends.

Junior doctors assist surgeons, rather than leading, in operations, but patient representatives are still concerned and want to see more medics being trained up to increase numbers working in hospitals.

Dr Jean Turner, chief executive of the Scotland Patients Association, said: "It's a worry for patients, who will be the ones who suffer if something goes wrong.

"Doctors should not be working excessive hours. We want the Scottish Government to supply highly trained doctors, and enough of them, so they are not harassed when they are trying to meet targets."

She added: "Health boards should be telling the Scottish Government that there are not enough doctors. They must have figured out that more need to be trained up."

NHS Lothian is working on a draft action plan to bring junior doctors' hours down.

It currently has 377 junior doctors working more than 48 hours a week, about 39 per cent, which is far lower than most boards.

Dr Charles Swainson, medical director of NHS Lothian, said: "NHS Lothian has made good progress every year in reducing junior doctors' hours in order to meet the European Working Time Regulation and we are currently ahead of most health boards in Scotland.

"We are working towards ensuring all members of staff meet the 48- hour limit by next August and are on target to meet this.

"One of the areas where we are not complying is our transplant surgery rota. These are committed members of staff who feel they have to work these hours to provide a service to transplant patients.

"Most of the retrieval of organs takes place in evenings and at weekends, and operations mainly start very early in the morning.

"These doctors and NHS Lothian realise that we must meet the European Working Time Regulation in order to offer a safe service.

"This will involve potentially recruiting additional members of staff, rearranging staff rotas and ensuring that all members of staff take their full rest entitlement."


JUNIOR doctors are worried about what effect reducing their hours will have on training.

It currently takes about eight to ten years to become a consultant, but this will be extended if they spend less time in theatre.

Health boards will have to meet the European targets and junior doctors would rather spend more years training than see a dumbing down.

Andrew Conway Morris, chairman of the BMA's junior doctors committee of south-east Scotland, said: "Hours have been steadily coming down from the mid-90s, when they were 100 hours a week average."

Originally published by Gareth Rose Health Reporter.

(c) 2008 Evening News; Edinburgh (UK). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.