CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

EU WORKING TIME DIRECTIVE – 10 March 2009

Dr Julian Lewis: The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) was making such an excellent speech that I am almost sorry that he cut it short in order to allow me to make a modest contribution to the debate. In showing that courtesy, he sets an example that certain people on the Front Benches would do well to emulate.

I did not come along to take part in the debate, as the Secretary of State implied, because it was one way to lure all the Eurosceptics out from their caves. I came not because I am a doctor – although I have that academic title, I know nothing whatsoever about medicine. I am not even an honorary physician, like the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron) who, sadly, is no longer in his place.

I came because I know a man who is a doctor, or at least I received a fax from that excellent service writetothem.com from a man who is a doctor. His name is Mr Jason Millington. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and he is an orthopaedic specialist currently working at the North Hampshire hospital who lives in my constituency.

Mr Millington has set out very pithily indeed the basis of why members of the medical profession are so concerned about the implications of the Working Time Directive. He has done that under four headings – patient safety, training, professional status and productivity. On patient safety, he says that there is no doubt in his mind that in preparing for the Directive, junior doctors’ rotas are unable to sustain the mandatory 48-hour week and to provide adequate service to patients. He writes:

“We are already stretched, and further dilution of our time will make holes in the rota that have been inadequately planned for. Locum cover for these slots is inappropriate, as well as wishful thinking”

in his understanding of the situation.

On training, Mr Millington says that doctors’ training is largely based on experience, as we heard in the excellent contribution from the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr Richard Taylor), to whom the House always listens with respect on this subject. My correspondent adds that many doctors

“earn no more money by working 56 hours than 48 hours, yet still recoil from the idea of a shorter working week imposed by Europe”.

That is because they are concerned about the skill-base in the future. Mr Millington asks me whether I am

“happy for Consultants of the future to be trained with less than half the clinical exposure as the current Consultants ... Should this ring any warning bells?”

On professional status, he says that he is sure that I, like most professional people, work more than 48 hours a week, and goes on:

“To impose a ridiculous restriction is demeaning and demoralising. You reap what you sow”.

He warns that if we want young doctors to be a “generation of clock-watchers”, the Directive will guarantee that that comes to pass. On productivity, Mr Millington says that every doctor affected by the Directive

“will lose a day’s productivity a week. This amounts to around 70,000 working days a week in the NHS”.

He asks whether I am prepared

“to see the possible collapse of service in any of the hospitals in your constituency on the back of a one-size-fits-all European policy”.

Finally, he points out that a recent Royal College of Physicians survey of the 48-hour week pilot scheme showed that 84 per cent. of the pilots created gaps in the rotas, so locums were required to cover the gaps; that 40 per cent. of the pilots had to use consultants to plug gaps in the junior rotas; and that 58 per cent. of doctors thought that patient care was worse under a 48-hour week. Mr Millington says:

“There are a limited number of locums in the UK. Many say that the system cannot support such a change.”

We politicians have little of value to say to doctors. However, Mr Millington has shown that doctors have plenty of value to say to us politicians.