Call to suspend the Working Time Directive in light of swine flu epidemic
Following calls from surgeons for the European Working Time Directive to be bypassed in the event of a major swine flu epidemic, Constanze Hewson, partner at international law firm Eversheds comments:“The reasoning behind the Working Time Directive was to strike a balance between the health of individual workers and effective business management by limiting working hours. Arguments have persisted ever since as to whether a maximum working week of 48 hours for most workers offers the right balance but many of those working in the medical profession have long been out of kilter with the remainder of the working population in terms of working hours. The maximum working hours for doctors in training has only dropped to 56 in recent years. This is now due to reduce still further to the standard 48 hour working week from 1 August.
“Concerns had been expressed for many years that entrusting health care to over-worked and tired practitioners was inappropriate and should not be a practice allowed to continue. However, that the sizeable further reduction in doctors' working hours should come at a time when the country is facing a likely flu epidemic is an unfortunate co-incidence, to say the least. European requirements would have allowed the Government to postpone this reduction in maximum hours to 48 until 2012 and indeed some NHS bodies have recently been given extra time to adjust to shorter working hours . So far as other NHS bodies are concerned, there is no sign that the Government will seek to move the 1 August date. Instead, should the epidemic progress to the extent and in the way that is anticipated (albeit this not certain) it seems more likely the contingencies built in to the Working Time Regulations may be called in to operation. The Regulations already make express provision for weekly hours to be averaged out over a longer period and for rest periods to be adjusted in the event of unforeseeable circumstances or where continuity requires. The reality of lower working hours for doctors may yet prove unachievable therefore, despite the pending change in the law.”
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