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Working time regulations

"Brexit must not be used as an excuse to stop investing in our NHS, nor as an excuse to overwork our doctors." 

Consultant Maharukh Daruwalla, writing on Connecting Doctors

The BMA is deeply concerned by reports that there is support within government for the removal of the Working Time Regulations (WTR) from UK law following the UK's departure from the European Union.

With health and care services under increasing pressure, it is not in the interests of staff or patients to move away from these safeguards.

Together with twelve leading health organisations, we have written to Prime Minister Theresa May, asking her not remove the regulations but to properly invest in and resource the medical workforce instead.


Our letter to the Prime Minister

20 December 2017

Dear Prime Minister,

As the representatives of doctors, nursing staff and midwives in the UK, we are deeply concerned by reports that there is support within government for the removal of the Working Time Regulations (WTR) from UK law following the UK’s departure from the European Union.

Dealing with and preventing the effects of excessive working is crucial not only because of the impact on individuals and their families, but also because of the wider consequences it poses to patient safety.

Twenty-five years ago, the phenomenon of health professionals working 90 hour weeks, and the attendant risks this posed, was all too common in the NHS. The worst excesses of these working arrangements were only curtailed following the arrival of EU-derived legislation limiting hours in the form of the WTR.

It is not in the interests of either staff or patients to relax or move away from the safeguarding protections introduced by the WTR, namely the limit of an average 48 hour working week, rest breaks and statutory paid leave, especially when there is, of course, the existing option for all workers to voluntarily opt out of these regulations.

Even with these regulations, we know that fatigue caused by excessive overwork remains an occupational hazard for many staff across the NHS, with tragic and not uncommon reports of road accidents after falling asleep at the wheel.

With health and care services under more pressure than ever before, and staff being called upon to work ever longer hours, what is needed is proper resourcing and investment to increase our workforce, not the removal of safeguards.

We noted the commitment in your speech to the Conservative Party Conference, and in recent days, that not only would existing workers’ legal rights be guaranteed in law, but that they would be enhanced under your Government.

We urge you not to renege on this commitment: Brexit must not be used as an excuse to overwork any staff group.

Yours sincerely,

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

Download this letter as a PDF


Related content

Read the Prime Minister’s response to our letter

Changes to EU working rules will 'put patients' lives at risk', say medics (The Guardian)

Prime minister warned to protect working time regulations (BMA News)

It’s time to stand up for safe working and training (Connecting Doctors blog)

Read more about the BMA's work on Brexit