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Working time rules and Brexit

18 Jul 2016

Today’s Daily Telegraph carries an interview with our President Clare Marx on the implications of Brexit for the NHS, in particular covering our message to the new Government that there are some opportunities to reform patient safety laws. This follows on from our recent letter to The Times highlighting the need to support doctors and other NHS staff from the EU. Over 40% of surgeons have trained outside the UK so it is vital we maintain and continue to attract these staff to work in the NHS.

The RCS believes there are a number of areas such as medical devices and language testing where there is now an opportunity to set tougher rules to improve patient safety. The article also covers our views on the European Working Time Directive (EWTD). Inevitably it is difficult for any article to capture every nuance of a policy position, especially on a complex area such as the EWTD with its associated court judgements.

To be clear, neither the President nor the College support a return to excessive working hours. Our most recent position on the EWTD was to support the recommendations set out by the European Working Time Directive Taskforce  published in 2014 which were supported by medical professionals, the BMA and the Junior Doctors Committee, NHS employer representatives, and patient representatives. This noted the EWTD has had a beneficial impact in terms of preventing doctors from working very long hours and jeopardising patient safety through fatigue. But the Taskforce also argued for greater flexibility in working patterns to help the quality of training and continuity of patient care.

Under no circumstances would the College support a return to a culture of long working hours. That would not be beneficial for patients or NHS staff. The EWTD is also only one aspect of the problems underlying the quality of training which currently needs to be addressed.

Over the coming weeks we will be forming a more detailed position on the areas of legislative change we would wish to see post-Brexit and we will provide further detail at that point.

Notes to editors

The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.

For more information, please contact the Press Office:

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