§ Dr. Hampson
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will take action to reduce the excessive hours worked by junior doctors; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
I have today issued a personnel memorandum to health authorities setting out a programme of action for reducing excessive hours of work. Copies have been placed in the Library.
The problem is not an easy one, nor one that can be solved overnight. The needs of patients must come first and long hours are part of the practice of medicine. I cannot direct financial resources from direct patient care and this must limit what can be done.
However, I am glad to say that within these constraints we have found a way forward that has been endorsed by the representatives of both consultants and the junior doctors themselves and by NHS authorities. We have asked each District Health Authority to review all out-of-hours commitments for junior staff. The most onerous rotas are to be ended immediately, and from next March juniors should not be expected to be on duty more frequently than every second night and weekend on average. Beyond that, the aim is to ensure that wherever it proves practical within planned expenditure on medical manpower, on-call commitments should be no more than one night and one weekend in three: a requirement generally regarded as acceptable by the profession.
The working parties will be reporting back next August. It would clearly be unreasonable to expect all the problems to have been resolved by then, but we look for real progress. We will then be able to take stock and see what further can be achieved.