News

Improving working conditions for junior doctors

Published: 06 Oct 2021 02:43

48 hour working week remains the long term goal post-pandemic.

A report from an Independent Expert Working Group has concluded that the current structure and demands placed upon the NHS Scotland do not allow a move to a 48 hour working week for junior doctors, at the present time.

In partnership with stakeholders we will review the report’s many recommendations about other ways to improve working conditions for junior doctors and other staff. 

Junior doctors currently work on rotas which are designed to meet an average 48 hour working week. This means that there are weeks of longer hours balanced by weeks of shorter hours.  The EWG found that a  48 hour maximum working week for junior doctors without such averaging cannot be safely achieved within current service models and staffing establishments in NHS Scotland. 

Ministers have confirmed that a 48 working week remains a long term policy objective, and will scrutinise the challenges that have been identified within the report and work with stakeholders and partners to develop a workable policy that improves working arrangements for all staff within NHS Scotland.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said:

“This government is committed to being open and transparent which is why we have published this Independent Expert Working Group report. We recognise the challenges it highlights in relation to our goal of introducing a 48 hour working week for junior doctors.

“I know that implementation of this policy will not be easy and will involve system wide considerations.

“In the meantime, the Expert Working Group report contains many recommendations that will improve working conditions for Junior Doctors and we are fully committed to their implementation. Many of these were also highlighted by junior doctors themselves, in the recent wellbeing report from the British Medical Association.

“The EWG report was commissioned prior to the Covid-19 pandemic which has changed the landscape with NHS Scotland. While our immediate focus must be on remobilising services and supporting NHS Scotland over the winter months, it is important that as we take this work forward we take into account lessons learnt during the pandemic and develop a system that supports the wellbeing of all staff within NHS Scotland.”

Dr Lailah Peel, chair of the BMA’s Scottish Junior Doctor Committee, said: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to implementing the recommendations within the Expert Working Group’s report – many of which we have highlighted ourselves recently in a comprehensive report on wellbeing, including restricting the number of consecutive long shifts, better rest facilities and rooms where juniors can go to during and following a nightshift before driving home.   

“Junior doctors were struggling before the pandemic, and the last 19 months have only amplified our concerns. Our wellbeing is of the utmost importance right now and small steps to improve this can make a huge difference to staff morale, not to mention the recruitment and retention of doctors within NHS Scotland. This is a good starting point, and we look forward to working with the Scottish Government and employers to take these recommendations forward as a high priority.”

Background

The EWG’s report can be found here: Export Working Group Report on a 48-hour maximum working week (without averaging) for Junior Doctors in Scotland - gov.scot (www.gov.scot)

Publication of the report has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the remobilisation of NHS Scotland.

The report highlights a number of actions which Health Boards can take now to improve conditions for junior doctors. These include improved facilities such as overnight rest areas for all night shift staff and sleeping facilities for those who may be too tired to drive home, the provision of nutritious food and drinks for all night shift staff, improved rota design restricting consecutive long shifts, and developing a supportive culture for night time staff.