Four out of 10 junior doctors are working on understaffed rotas, according to a poll.

The British Medical Association, which carried out the survey of more than 1,500 junior doctors, said hospitals are still struggling to cope six months after the European working time directive came into force.

It is hugely alarming to find so many doctors are working in teams short of experienced doctors

The directive cut the number of hours doctors can work to 48 per week.

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 per cent 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.”

Of the vacancies, four out of 10 were for specialist trainees with at least five years of experience.

Overall, six out of 10 doctors working in accident and emergency said there were vacancies on their rotas.

Dr Datta said: “It is hugely alarming to 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.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said the majority of the NHS is compliant with the average 48-hour working time regulations.