Most NHS organisations are on track to have their staff working an average of no more than 48 hours a week by 1 August

The NHS is on track to meet the European working time directive by 1 August, according to Wendy Reid, a surgeon and European working time directive clinical adviser to the Department of Health.

She is confident most NHS organisations will be able to ensure that by August all their staff are working an average of no more than 48 hours per week. However, she is keen to stress that there will be an “element of flexibility” built into working hours.

“We are coming down to the final increment to 48 hours and this is referenced over 26 weeks, so absolutely no way if you are in an emergency situation are you expected to say ‘my shift’s finished, time’s up’ and you go off. The flexibility is within that reference period, for an average 48-hour working week,” she says.

Safe care

All strategic health authorities, the medical royal colleges and the British Medical Association are now working together to monitor organisations on compliance and to offer solutions so the directive is met by August.

According to Miss Reid there is now a “real understanding” among the medical profession that “tired doctors are not safe”.

She continues: “This legislation is health and safety, not just for the employee but

for patients. The moment you talk about patients and safe care is when doctors really engage.”

However, she adds that the only way to solve current compliance problems was through a “whole-systems approach”.

“It can’t be up to an individual doctor or group of doctors in a team to solve it; it has to be by looking across the whole organisation.”

Across the country more than 30 trusts have piloted different rotas and working solutions to ensure compliance. The DH, alongside the SHAs, the royal colleges, Skills for Health - Workforce Projects Team and NHS East of England Workforce Programmes Team, offer organisations a range of innovative solutions to meet the directive.

Miss Reid says: “There will be exceptions and the government has made it clear to the European Commission that derogation for some services in 24 acute emergency specialties may occur. However, this is not an excuse for trusts to miss the August deadline.

“£310m has been made available to help trusts become compliant. To do this, clinical leaders need to develop robust business cases and plans to secure the money.

“At its heart the European working time legislation is a vehicle by which the NHS can ensure that patient safety remains paramount and at the same time ensure the best quality of training for junior doctors in the modern world.”

About Skills for Health - Workforce Projects Team

Skills for Health - Workforce Projects Team supports healthcare organisations in achieving their workforce objectives and in finding solutions to the many challenges they face through directives and making changes to their ways of working.

If healthcare organisations are to put patients at the centre of service delivery, they must ensure their workforce is able to provide the best possible care. That means having the right people in the right place with the right skills and competences at the right time.

The team has the remit of helping and supporting the NHS to find and implement solutions to the problems of the EWTD going on to the August 2009 compliance deadline. It is instrumental in leading the work towards this.

The Skills for Health - Workforce Projects Team booklet Signposting EWTD Solutions, which sets out the top 10 obstacles to achieving compliance and offers the top 10 solutions, is availiable now.

Additional resources, tools, case studies and solutions can be found by visiting www.healthcareworkforce.nhs.uk or calling the Workforce Projects Team on 0161 266 2300.

Wendy Reid is keynote speaker at Clinical Leadership in the Delivery of EWTD, a conference hosted by Skills for Health - Workforce Projects Team on 15 May. Register at www.healthcareworkforce.nhs.uk/ewtdconference2009