Poor clinical practice and an EU directive are causing unnecessary deaths in hospitals across the UK, a patient care report has warned.

The government-funded investigation, the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death, highlights inadequate shift handovers, delays in contacting consultants and poor communication between doctors as particularly worrying.

The report’s authors claim “a clinically important delay” in contacting consultants occurred in 25 per cent of the 1,635 deaths covered by the report.

The EU working time directive, which came into force in August this year and limits the number of hours a doctor can legally work, is heavily criticised by the investigation, with researchers claiming it disrupts continuity between shifts and lowers the standard of patient care.

Acknowledging that changing the directive would be difficult if not impossible, the report calls for the development of alternative ways of dealing with the issues it highlights.

The report says: “Unless there is evidence underpinning a political will to challenge the directive through the European parliament, other mechanisms must be developed in order to address the lack of continuity of out of hours care and the availability of appropriately trained staff, 24 hours a day.”

But a Department of Health spokesman said: “Hospitals such as the Homerton in London, who have been working a 48 hour week for over two years, have produced evidence that shows the change has decreased hospital mortality. There is no evidence of harm being caused to patients.

“In fact PMETB, the independent regulator responsible for junior doctor training, said there is evidence the European Working Time Directive (EWTD) improves patient safety but little evidence that it reduces the quality of training,” he added.