AMA calls on Health Ministers for strategy for safer hours and rosters for junior doctors

23 Jul 2001

AMA Federal President, Dr Kerryn Phelps, has written to Federal and State Health Ministers calling for a strategy to address the systemic causes of unsafe rostering and work practices for junior doctors in the public hospital system.

Dr Phelps said the urgent need for a national strategy was confirmed by the findings of the final report of the AMA's Safe Hours Campaign - Risk Assessment of Junior Doctor Rosters - which was released today.

The report contains data on over 400 detailed risk assessments of junior doctors' work patterns in all States.

Dr Phelps said a national response on safe hours was essential to address serious occupational and clinical safety issues in public hospitals and to create a safer environment for junior doctors and patients.

"Rosters involving 100 hours of patient contact a week, with single shifts exceeding 14 hours, and then being on-call for emergencies, are not a recipe for positive health outcomes for overworked doctors or their patients," Dr Phelps said.

"These unsafe rosters rely too much on the dedication of the junior doctors and would not be allowed in any other industry.

"Our report cites one dangerous example of a doctor being on 63 hours of continuous hospital duty. Fatigue from working such long hours inevitably leads to serious performance impairment.

"There are no winners with this sort of rostering in our public hospitals.

"Many hospitals have taken measures to review their medical rostering and work practices in response to the AMA's Safe Hours campaign, but more needs to be done.

"It is time for the Health Ministers to meet their responsibilities as the employers of these doctors by ensuring safety and quality in Australia's public hospitals," Dr Phelps said.

Any Government strategy should be developed in consultation with the medical profession and the hospital sector and include specific targets for improvement - with input from the AMA, hospitals, medical training organisations, clinical safety and quality organisations, occupational health and safety regulators, and the major health industry associations.

Copies of the report can be obtained by calling the AMA on 02 6270 5481.

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CONTACT: John Flannery (02) 6270 5477 / (0419) 494 761

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