Saturday 24 March 2018

Junior doctors in new hope as their working hours row goes to EU court

Eilish O'Regan, Health Correspondent

JUNIOR doctors hope a decision by the European Commission to refer the issue of their gruelling working hours to the European Court of Justice will keep pressure on hospitals to comply with the law.

The complaint that Irish hospitals are not complying with the EU directive limiting the working week of junior doctors to 48 hours is to go before the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The HSE has already admitted that some doctors can work 70 or even 100 hours a week, and shifts of 36 hours or more.

It recently reached agreement with the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), the union representing junior doctors, to impose a timetable on hospitals to comply with the limits and make the 48-hour week fully effective by the end of next year.

This agreement, worked out at the Labour Relations Commission, was supported in a ballot of the doctors last week.

However, the complaint to the ECJ will now pile even more pressure on hospitals to meet the deadline, even though they are under severe pressure due to a lack of doctors in several departments. Hospitals outside Dublin are under the most strain.

The complaint to the commission said that Ireland is failing to ensure that in practice junior doctors work no more than 48 hours per week on average, including any overtime.

It said that junior doctors are regularly required to work an average of 70-75 hours per week, without adequate breaks for rest or sleep.

The IMO's director of industrial relations, Steve Tweed, said: "While it's shameful that failure of the HSE and Department of Health on this issue has led to this, we welcome the decision of the EU as we believe it will fundamentally alter the attitude of the HSE on the matter.

"The HSE has always tried to sweep this issue under the carpet but will now be forced to answer on it by the court.

"While we have recently agreed a roadmap with the HSE on the ending of the archaic practice of overworking junior doctors, we retain a degree of scepticism about the willingness of the HSE to enforce every aspect of that agreement. Therefore, this EU move will help keep the pressure on the authorities."

Irish Independent

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