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Holding the line on working time

Shape of trainingThe European Working Time Directive (EWTD) was adopted in 1993 and was implemented in UK law in 1998. It became applicable to junior doctors in August 2009 - reducing the maximum hours worked from an average of 56 per week to 48.

We are satisfied with the EWTD as it stands and believe it protects doctors from the dangers of overwork whilst protecting patients from overtired doctors.

There have also been a number of European Court of Justice rulings on the EWTD, perhaps the most important of these for doctors are the SiMAP and Jaeger rulings which enshrined the principle of time spent on-call at the workplace being classed as work.

The European Commission (EC) has made numerous attempts to revise the EWTD from 2007 onwards but it has been unsuccessful due to disagreements between the European Parliament and member states.

The most recent attempt failed as social partners - trade unions and employers' organisations - failed to reach agreement on a proposed revision by the December 2012 deadline.

The EC consulted on the issue in 2014-15 and is expected to publish these results during 2015, with recommendations for further action to follow.

Read the BMA's March 2015 response to a European Commission consultation

Visit the European Commission website


RCS independent taskforce report

The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) chaired an independent taskforce on the implementation of the Working Time Directive and its impact on the NHS and health professionals.

The independent taskforce included representation from the BMA and across the medical profession. It reviewed the evidence on the effect of the regulations on the delivery of patient care and the training of doctors.

The final report of the taskforce was delivered to the Secretary of State for Health on 3 April 2014 and makes six recommendations:

  1. That the NHS should review best practice in the design of working practices, and share examples of the successful delivery of patient care and the training of junior doctors.
  2. The specific challenges faced by some specialties should be addressed in further work.
  3. The lack of flexibility brought about by the court judgments is tackled, whilst ensuring doctors don’t suffer undue fatigue.
  4. The possibility of creating protected education and training time for junior doctors should be explored.
  5. The findings of this report will need to be taken into account in the on-going contractual negotiations.
  6. More consideration should be given to encourage wider use of the right for individual doctors to opt out of the current restricted hours.

The European Commission is consulting on the issue and is expected to release recommendations for further action in early 2015. We are satisfied with the EWTD as it stands and believe it protects doctors from the dangers of overwork whilst protecting patients from overtired doctors.

We will continue to engage with those who seek to amend the directive, changes to which will be subject to the assent of member states.

Read the independent taskforce report, March 2014 

Read the BMA's evidence to the taskforce, November 2013


Time for Training report

A review of the impact of the European Working Time Directive on the quality of training - Time for Training - by Professor Sir John Temple was published in May 2010. It called for a consultant led NHS to provide junior doctors with more time for training.

The BMA welcomed the report, which was commissioned by Medical Education England. We note the key recommendations, which include a consultant delivered service, reconfiguration of services and junior doctor involvement in rota design. The BMA is committed to excellence in training and patient safety.

The BMA has called for:

  • A clear commitment to implementing the recommendations by the Department of Health, employers and deaneries

  • A coordinated response by all key stakeholders in ensuring the recommendations are implemented locally as best appropriate

  • A review of whether the recommendations have been implemented

  • A clear understanding of the prioritisation of the recommendations

  • Clarification of the relevance of the report to the devolved nations

  • An annual review of training outcomes for trainees following the introduction of the EWTD in order to follow the impact of EWTD on training

  • Clear consultation and involvement of consultants and trainees in changes at local and regional level to ensure that training opportunities are optimised within the 48 hour working week.

Download Time for Training - Review by Sir John Temple, May 2010