Under-pressure junior doctors at one of Ireland’s busiest hospitals worked 120,000 hours of overtime in the second half of 2012 — costing the taxpayer €4.39m.
New HSE figures show 304 medics at Cork University Hospital worked the significant overtime to fill chronic service gaps between July and November, with doctors warning the strain is putting patients at risk.
According to details obtained by trade publication the Medical Independent, over the five-month period, 304 junior doctors at CUH worked a combined 124,779 hours of overtime.
This means each medic worked 410 hours of overtime during the period, the equivalent of 82 hours per month and just over four hours every day.
The rate reached a peak of 29,914 hours worth of overtime in August alone, at a cost of €1.07m.
And while attempts are being made to address the situation, the doctors’ union, the Irish Medical Organisation, said relatively little is changing.
“This workload is jeopardising doctors’ health, patient care and is quite typical at most hospitals,” said IMO non-consultant hospital doctors committee chair, Dr Mark Murphy.
“Doctors accrue massive hours they do not want to work, they have no choice in working, and it causes risks.
“It is even worse in smaller hospitals where there might only be five doctors for a particular speciality, and is a nationwide phenomenon, but there is very little being done to substantially reduce the problem.”
After talks between CUH management and IMO officials, last August, both parties agreed junior doctors would work rostered on-call extra hours — but crucially “go home post-call”.
The IMO has been in negotiations with the Department of Health and HSE for almost two decades to reduce overtime levels. The discussion is focussed on the fact junior doctor working hours regularly exceed the EU working time directive, which states weekly work levels must be capped at 48 hours, with some medics working up to 100 hours a week.
After the European Commission threatened Ireland with significant fines over the situation last year, the department published a plan to reduce overtime work by 2015.
However, Fine Gael MEP for Ireland North West, Jim Higgins, wrote to the commission yesterday claiming little progress has been made.
“The danger to patients is obvious. Junior doctors battling with exhaustion risk making mistakes which can have serious consequences for their patients.”
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