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Reduction in junior doctor’s working hours

By Alina Hardcastle

Reduction in junior doctor’s working hours

After the death of junior doctor Ilne Markwat, the Western Cape’s Health Department has announced the reduction of junior doctors working hours. Markwat died following a vehicle accident which has been blamed on exhaustion follow an excessively long shift in a hospital, which led to her falling asleep at the wheel. The new working hours will come into effect in the Western Cape in January 2017.

The Junior Doctors Association’s Dr Zahid Badroodien stated: “The decision taken by the Minister was based on recommendations made to her by the Western Cape Task Team. The team liaised with all hospitals in which interns are employed and the start point of working towards safer hours would begin at 24 hours as agreed to.”

So is 24 hours a reasonable reduction? Badroodien explained that hours that they are contractually expected to complete (64-80 hours over time and 40 normal hours per month) will remain unchanged, and that continuous shifts will not exceed 24 hours.

Unfortunately this decision only applies to those within the Western Cape. Badroodien added: “Whilst the Western Cape Department of Health must be lauded for their bold progressive decision our colleagues in the other provinces are still subject to the inhumane regulations expecting up to 30 hours of continuous labour when on call.”

Further issues

Although medical bodies applaud the decision, there are further issues yet to be addressed. Both Badroodien and the South African Medical Association’s Dr Mark Sonderup, are concerned about the current shortage of employed junior doctors.

“The bigger problem is the lack of number of intern posts available in South Africa as a whole. For 2017, it [appears] we will be short of anything [between] 190-270 posts,” said Sonderup.

He added that they are continuously training more doctors but still remain short on posts.

Badroodien pointed out that making more posts available will decrease the burden of extra hours and the need for additional safer shifts.

Dr Maurice Goodman, Chief Medical Officer at Discovery Health informed us that Discovery Health is working on a range of initiatives that will further address a number of the challenges facing the junior doctors in South Africa.

It is recognised that this decision is the first step in the right direction. Badroodien stated: “This is a victory for junior doctors in the Western Cape and the Junior Doctors Association of South Africa will continue to call for the National Department and all other Provincial Departments to follow suit.”

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