Junior doctors and DHBs need to agree on less stressful hours

EDITORIAL

Although the decision of the country’s junior doctors to take industrial action later this month will affect thousands of people, there will still be sympathy for them not usually seen in an industrial issue that impacts so clearly on not just the public, but its members who are unwell. It is also another clear sign of increasing strain on funding of the country’s health system.

A total of 3200 junior doctors will go on strike for 48 hours from 7am on October 18. That will mean only emergency cases will be dealt with and operations will be done only where there is risk to the life of the patient.

Junior doctors, who last struck in 2008, have a strong case. There are reports of staff facing shifts of 10 to 15 hours for 12 days in a row, and seven-night shifts in succession.

In a recent survey, 1182 doctors reported a mistake made through tiredness and 275 said they had nodded off at the wheel. Obviously no one should be expected to work to such exhaustion when their decisions can also mean life or death for their patients.

The response of district health boards was to reduce the number of days worked in succession to 10 and successive night shifts from seven to four. That will still be too high in the minds of many but the boards are struggling to stay within their budgets.

The Government is also finding it difficult to meet the country’s increasing health costs. An injection of $2.2 billion in this year’s Budget took health spending up to $16.4 billion. Add to that the millions people spend on private health care.

Labour leader Andrew Little says the health sector has been underfunded for the past six years and this year’s Budget is too light by $1.7 billion.

Our increasingly ageing population and the high cost of modern medical technology will keep ratcheting up the pressure on the health system.

There is no easy or immediate solution to the growing problem but first things first, let’s get the ridiculous hours worked by junior doctors brought down to something more realistic and safe for all.

Although the decision of the country’s junior doctors to take industrial action later this month will affect thousands of people, there will still be sympathy for them not usually seen in an industrial issue that impacts so clearly on not just the public, but its members who are unwell. It is also another clear sign of increasing strain on funding of the country’s health system.

A total of 3200 junior doctors will go on strike for 48 hours from 7am on October 18. That will mean only emergency cases will be dealt with and operations will be done only where there is risk to the life of the patient.

Junior doctors, who last struck in 2008, have a strong case. There are reports of staff facing shifts of 10 to 15 hours for 12 days in a row, and seven-night shifts in succession.

In a recent survey, 1182 doctors reported a mistake made through tiredness and 275 said they had nodded off at the wheel. Obviously no one should be expected to work to such exhaustion when their decisions can also mean life or death for their patients.

The response of district health boards was to reduce the number of days worked in succession to 10 and successive night shifts from seven to four. That will still be too high in the minds of many but the boards are struggling to stay within their budgets.

The Government is also finding it difficult to meet the country’s increasing health costs. An injection of $2.2 billion in this year’s Budget took health spending up to $16.4 billion. Add to that the millions people spend on private health care.

Labour leader Andrew Little says the health sector has been underfunded for the past six years and this year’s Budget is too light by $1.7 billion.

Our increasingly ageing population and the high cost of modern medical technology will keep ratcheting up the pressure on the health system.

There is no easy or immediate solution to the growing problem but first things first, let’s get the ridiculous hours worked by junior doctors brought down to something more realistic and safe for all.

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