36-hour shifts for doctors
By Tim E. Stewart
DARWIN — Doctors at the Royal Darwin Hospital (RDH) have expressed outrage at comments by NT health minister Mike Reed that shifts of 36 hours have no effect on patient care. These comments were backed by NT spokesperson for the AMA Chris Wake, who argues that "historically, shifts of 56 hours are quite normal".
A work practices review at RDH is looking at rest relief requirements, on call frequency and staffing levels. Current guidelines have no recommendation on the maximum number of hours worked. While other states cap the maximum number of consecutive hours worked at 16, periods of duty as long as 56 hours regularly occur at RDH.
A South Australian researcher found that shifts longer than 24 hours left practitioners with a loss of basic motor skills, and cognitive responses similar to those of someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.1%. The report recommends a maximum shift length of 14 hours.
Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation workplace representative Mike Myerscough told Green Left, "Most RMOs [resident medical officers] feel unhappy working those prolonged shifts. RDH award has no limit on the number of hours worked per week or consecutively."
Myerscough explained that shifts in southern hospitals are generally rostered shifts and not proximate on calls. RMOs at Darwin Hospital have been on proximate on call for 48 hours over the weekend and are then rostered for an eight-hour shift on Monday. By staffing this way, Royal Darwin Hospital avoids giving a guaranteed number of days off.