Healthcare union chiefs urge government to retain working time regulations after leaving EU

Patient safety will be at risk if working time regulations are ditched, warn union leaders

The RCN has joined other royal colleges and health unions in urging caution against removing regulations on working time limits.

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The college is among 13 organisations to sign a letter to prime minister Theresa May stressing that rules about working times must be kept after the UK's exit from the European Union (EU).

Under the working time regulations, which were introduced in the UK in 1998 following an EU directive,  nursing staff – and others – cannot be forced to work more than 48 hours each week, averaged over a 17-week period.

Appropriate breaks

If daily working time is more than six hours, staff are entitled to a minimum break of 20 minutes under the legislation. 

The British Medical Association (BMA) – the doctors' union – is heading up the letter which it says is in response to reports that there is support from government for the removal of the time regulations.

The working time regulations will be reconsidered along with a host of other laws derived from the EU when the UK leaves the union.

BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said working time regulations protect medical staff from the dangers of overwork and also protects patients from tired doctors and nurses.

Risk to patient safety

'We can all agree that no one wants a return to the days where doctors and nurses were working 90 hours a week – it would be bad for patient safety, bad for staff and bad for the NHS,' he said.

‘With unprecedented staff shortages and pressure currently facing the health service, it is crucial that doctors’, nurses' and midwives’ concerns over unsafe working conditions are heard.’

Ms Davies added: ‘Working time regulations are there to protect patients. Nurses are driven to do the best they can, but however dedicated, clinical staff who are overtired from working excessive hours could become a risk to the people they are trying to treat.

‘Working time regulations put an end to the excessive hours of the past and in doing so made care safer.

‘It should be clear to the government that removing or weakening working time regulations would put patients at serious risk.’

The letter is signed by:

  • BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul
  • Royal College of Anaesthetists president Liam Brennan
  • Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health president Neena Modi
  • Royal College of Physicians president Jane Dacre
  • RCN general secretary Janet Davies
  • Royal College of Midwives chief executive Gill Walton
  • Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh president Michael Lavelle-Jones
  • British Dental Association chair Mick Armstrong
  • Royal College of Ophthalmologists president Michael Burdon
  • Royal College of GPs chair Helen Stokes-Lampard
  • Royal College of Radiologists president Nicola Strickland
  • Royal College of Emergency Medicine president Taj Hassan
  • Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Lesley Regan

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