The Glorious 12th – the new NHS Killing Season?

Apparently, grouse in the UK aren’t yet healthy enough to shoot this year as the bizarre weather has stunted their development…in other news though; the month of August has triggered the annual influx of newly qualified doctors into hospitals across the UK, signalling the start of the annual open season on patients.

© Tolchik | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Tolchik | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The ’Killing Season, so called because research shows that the 6,000 new doctors that are already in place at our hospitals are putting patients at risk, prompting a six per cent rise in unnecessary deaths. We know this as a matter of record, and the Government finally responded to the issue last year.

There is now a mentoring scheme to ensure that graduates have access to support from more senior medical staff as they learn the ropes. The Independent reported that the mentoring scheme requires junior doctors to shadow their predecessors for a minimum of four days before they start their jobs on 1st August. It must be nerve-wracking for them suddenly to be faced with real live patients…and four days sounds like being thrown in at the deep end to me.

But then…it’s worked well in University Hospitals Bristol, figures showing that there were 52% fewer errors made by the junior doctors on the scheme in the first four months. This is great news for all those patients who might not want to replace the grouse as “fair game” this August.

So, problem solved then? Well, this certainly goes some way towards it, but we can’t congratulate ourselves just yet as the EU’s Directive around working hours has been thwarting those same junior doctors since 2009. Senior medical professionals have argued that the EU’s strict rules on working hours have been frustrating the development of graduates who need to experience the fullest range of conditions and treatments they can in their first few weeks…or first 4 days if they’re really lucky.

But, by limiting the hours junior doctors can work and train, the EU’s rules are putting them under a strain to perform well while learning an enormous amount of information in a stop/start manner. In October 2012, Professor Norman Williams, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, argued that shorter working hours meant that junior doctors are failing to meet a full range of challenges and applauded the Government’s effort to instigate a change to the directive. He wrote that a “48-hour straitjacket has led to too many unnecessary handovers and has resulted in a fragmentation of patient care.”

In February this year, the GMA highlighted the results of the restrictions imposed by the EU working hour’s directive, also. They cited some issues around providing out-of-ours care for patients and being given less opportunity for valuable training causing even more pressure. When so many health authorities agree on a topic, it’s worth noting as it is a rare event…

Working in the medical profession is not like any other, it is literally life or death, and not just statistics. The NHS is at least trying to support new doctors, but with their hands tied by the Directive, how are we to maintain the take up by graduate doctors and save patients’ lives?

I’m with you on this one, Professor Williams….Pull!



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