SOME junior doctors are working as much as 100 hours per shift, eating and sleeping when they can, a representative of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) in Kerry has revealed.
Dr Addy Abdulhaq was speaking on Tuesday as most of Kerry General Hospital's 84 non-consultant hospital doctors picketed outside the hospital as part of a national, one-day strike over what they consider to be unsafe working hours.
Dr Abdulhaq described the current working arrangement as 'a catastrophe waiting to happen,' and said that strike action was the only way to make the HSE end the practice of 'horrendous' and unsafe working hours.
"Some people have worked 80 and 100 hour shifts and that would be done routinely. I once worked a 108-hour shift, starting work on Friday morning and finishing on Tuesday evening. This still happens, where doctors simply sleep and eat when they can," he said. "Any doctor will tell you that by the second day of their shift they are deeply uncomfortable with their performance levels and, although we try to help each other out as best we can, we are waiting for a catastrophe to happen."
Dr Abdulhaq said that , despite rulings in their favour at the Labour Court and the High Court, the HSE is refusing to implement the EU Working Time Directive and end the practice of shifts of 24 or more for junior doctors.
"We have exhausted every other avenue and regret that it has come to this, but we have to think of both doctor and patient safety," he said. "The reality is that a person's life could be at risk if we make one mistake, yet we are forced to work the most dangerous hours. Even truck drivers and pilots are legally forced to stop after so many hours, but not us. It makes no sense."
The Irish Medical Organisation has warned that Tuesday's strike action will escalate unless the HSE commits to ending the unsafe practice, with the union expected to meet today (Wednesday) to decide its next course of action.
Tuesday's industrial action at Kerry General Hospital resulted in the postponement of over 80 outpatients appointments and 12 surgical procedures, but the hospital's emergency department did operate as normal as did all dialysis and oncology services.