Four in ten junior doctors are now working on understaffed rotas as UK hospitals struggle to cope with the introduction of the European Working Time Directive (EWTD), according to a new BMA survey of over 1,500 junior doctors.
The BMA survey, is the most extensive analysis of junior doctors working arrangements in the six months following the introduction of the EWTD in August 2009.
Dr Shree Datta, Chair of the BMA's Junior Doctor Committee said:
"In August last year the Department of Heath declared that rota gap vacancies accounted for only 2% of posts yet, six months on, our survey paints a very different picture. It is clear that it is an everyday experience for junior doctors to be working on inadequately staffed rotas. Given that inadequate staffing levels have been identified as a major factor in the delivery of substandard care - it is essential for patient safety that this problem is taken seriously."
The survey shows that seven out of ten rota vacancies reported were for junior doctors who have completed their foundation training years and, more worryingly, that four out of ten vacancies were for experienced specialist trainees with at least five years of experience.
The analysis of rota vacancies also showed that frontline services like emergency medicine were hardest hit with six out of ten of the doctors working in emergency departments reporting vacancies on their rotas.
Dr Datta added:
"It is hugely alarming to that find so many doctors are working in teams short of experienced doctors. In settings like A&E, which is experiencing the highest levels of understaffing, it is especially critical that experienced specialists are on hand to make the decisions that can mean the difference between life and death.
"Clearly many hospitals are struggling to cope with the introduction of the 48-hour week. Running understaffed rotas cannot be the answer. Hospitals need to look more closely at how they organise their rotas. They need to look at reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and inappropriate work so that healthcare teams can offer patients the high quality care they deserve.
"The government needs to face the cold realities of our survey and work with the profession to address the understaffing epidemic."