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"It's a killer" - Junior doctors still forced to work 36-hour shifts

A source also told TheJournal.ie that he works “about 70 hours a week on average” and is often not paid overtime.

File photo.
File photo.

JUNIOR MEDICAL WORKERS are being asked to work shifts of up to 36 hours in succession, TheJournal.ie can reveal.

An EU Directive, introduced in 2004, dictated that EU workers should work “no more than 48 hours per week” – however a source, who works as a junior doctor at a major Dublin hospital, claims this instruction is being ignored.

“I wouldn’t say there’s been a single week since I’ve started working about a year and a half ago that I’ve only had to work 48 hours a week,” he told TheJournal.ie. “It can be anything up to over 100 hours a week.

“Generally you wouldn’t get any sleep, or you might get one or two hours sleep. You could end up working anything up to 36 hours in a row.

“36 hours would be a record. But once a week you’d generally have to work 32 hours in a row.”

The junior doctor, who claims he has to work “about 70 hours a week on average,” said himself and his colleagues “haven’t made any major mistakes” as a result of tiredness, though they make “lots of minor mistakes” that could have an impact on patient care.

He feels junior medical workers are “being exploited” and described how he had concerns about his personal health and safety on account of these working hours.

“It’s a killer,” he explained. “Adrenaline tends to get you through the first 20 hours. You start to feel the burn at around 4am. You focus then on the ward for a few hours, you make your way through it, you’re generally okay that night, but then the next day is really exhausting.”

The source also revealed that while the workers are supposed to be getting overtime, this rule is also often disregarded.

“They say you’re supposed to get time and a half. But there’s all sorts of issues about NCHD overtime pay, and a lot of us aren’t getting our pay back. I didn’t get any overtime pay on my last paycheck.

“They ask us to fill in all these special sheets where you give reasons for all the extra hours we’re working, which shouldn’t really be feasible, because there’s never a single excuse for why you’re working an extra ten hours. There’s always a hundred reasons why you have to do that. It just doesn’t really work – they have to just believe that we’re working those hours and pay us the overtime.

“I think they’re just looking for any reason not to, so they’re putting loads of red tape in the way, so that they don’t pay us really so that the hospitals don’t run out of money.”

He claimed that these problems were not exclusive to his hospital, and were also endemic in “other major hospitals,” in which doctor friends of his have “echoed” these concerns.

“There’d be occasions where you don’t look particularly professional the next day on the ward,” he said. “You’d be just so exhausted and your eyes would be sort of closed and you’d just be nodding off. Things like that just don’t really look good.

“I don’t know if a lot of people turn a blind eye to it. I think it’s something that does really need to be addressed.”

As a potential solution to the problem, he claims a system akin to one that nurses work could be the way forward.

“They don’t have the resources to be getting different people in,” he explained. “What they should do is what they do in nursing, where they have some people working nights and not having to do the whole thing for a couple of months. Just do your week of nights, then just go back to your normal 9-5 job. It’s not usually 9-5 though. My normal job is probably around 8-7.”

The source also said that himself and his colleagues had received thinly-veiled threats about speaking out on the issue, and added that senior doctors indicated to them that working excessive hours is “a rite of passage”.

He revealed that there was widespread disharmony among junior doctors due to these conditions, and that roughly half his class have emigrated largely as a result.

In addition, he criticised the Irish Medical Organisation, suggesting they “don’t seem to be doing very much” about the issue.

The source also lambasted “the head of the IMO and his multi-million euro pension,” adding: “It’s kind of hard to trust an organisation when the CAO is walking away at about 53 with this payoff – that could certainly have paid us a lot of our overtime.”

He consequently claims he would be “tempted” by the prospect of emigration.

“The money we’re making at the moment is literally just enough to pay rent and pay back my loans from college, and just general living expenses. And when you’re working those hours, it’s pretty unsatisfying.”

Moreover, over the past year, two junior doctors have died as a result of suicide, and the source believes that working these excessive hours would have been a contributing factor to these deaths.

“The girl was a friend of one of the lads I’m working with. It does highlight the strain. Obviously, there’d also be a lot going on in someone’s personal life for that to happen, but it doesn’t help when they’re exhausted from their work.”

Here’s how Ireland distributed €159m among nine countries last year>

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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