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36-hour shifts killing us, say junior doctors

JUNIOR hospital doctors here have warned that they are working under such pressure that it is hitting patient care.

The doctors says the length of their shifts can be as long as 36 hours, and they sometimes work more than 71 hours a week.

The effects are severe exhaustion, stress, depression and even suicide. 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, says this instruction is being ignored.


Now the junior doctors are demanding the HSE introduce and implement the maximum 24-hour shifts in hospitals.

Thousands of doctors have signed up to a '24 hours Is Enough' campaign online and are contacting Minister for Health James Reilly to push for this EU rule to be implemented.

The European Commission has already warned the Government that Ireland faces legal action unless it complies with the European Working Time Directive (EWTD), which requires that working hours be capped at 48 hours a week .

The new push by doctors here comes after Dr Anthony O'Connor revealed online that two doctors he taught as undergraduates, and subsequently worked with, had committed suicide.

He said that there was a "silent epidemic of undiagnosed, untreated depression amongst our colleagues".

Dr O'Connor told the Medical Independent that he was himself hit by an "overwhelming sense of sadness" as he drove to work crying after a particularly exhausting day.

"Luckily I never felt suicidal, but I remember that morning thinking it might be nice if I was involved in a medium-sized accident where I broke a leg or an arm to get me out of call for a few weeks," he said.

Dr John Fitzgerald, trainee surgeon at St James's Hospital in Dublin, says that he works a minimum of 70 hours a week.


"I wrote off my car on Christmas Day three years ago after driving home from work due to tiredness."

Representative group Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) took a test case to Europe when the HSE failed to implement the EWTD.

But although the HSE agreed to this, a total of 54pc of non-consultant hospital doctors said that they are still working above and beyond the 24-hour limit.

Shirley Coulter, assistant director of the IMO, said the HSE has agreed to the ruling, but it is just a matter of ensuring the HSE and hospitals implement it.