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HCL Sees Demand Rocket as Trusts Prepare for European Working Time Directive

27th May 2009

Healthcare Locums (HCL), the UK's largest specialist health and social care agency, says it is seeing rocketing demand for locum and permanent placement doctors from Trusts struggling to prepare for the European Working Time Directive, which limits the number of hours trainee doctors can work to 48 per week.

The Directive, which is due to come into force on 1 August 2009, poses another challenge for an already over-stretched healthcare workforce only a few months after the Government imposed stringent new qualification requirements on overseas doctors working in the UK.  Changes to the Highly Skilled Migration Programme, introduced earlier this year, means that only those who have a master's degree can apply for a visa to work in the UK, in a move which has been heavily criticised by the British Medical Association.

HCL echoes the BMA's concerns as it believes that greater emphasis on international recruitment drives for doctors outside the UK is the only way to address the staffing squeeze which will result from imposing strict limits on doctors' working hours.
Kate Bleasdale, HCL's Executive Vice Chairman, said:

"The European Working Time Directive is intended to regulate the working hours of all workers in the European Union, which, while laudable in its aims, does not take into account the realities of working in a hospital, especially in an emergency care environment.  You cannot make an emergency situation conform to a 48 hour per week rota limit. 

"This is a huge concern for our clients, and we are seeing accelerating demand for locum staff in the run-up to 1 August as some Trusts anticipate a big staffing shortfall once the Directive kicks in. 

"In our permanent placement division, we have seen demand rise by as much as 30%.

"We are even receiving orders from the NHS Deaneries who are not able to find enough doctors to fill all the six and twelve month posts which will become available in August - something we are seeing for the first time."

She added:

"The obvious solution is to drive international recruitment programmes to source appropriately qualified medical professionals from overseas, and at HCL, with our networks spanning the Middle East, United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, that is exactly what we are doing.  But since the changes to skilled migration legislation, which make it harder for overseas doctors to work in the UK, this is also a big challenge.

"Of course no one wants a return to the days of junior doctors working 120-plus hour weeks  - patients should always be seen by an alert and well-rested doctor.  But we also must ensure that there are enough medical professionals to meet patients' needs and get them the highest quality of treatment.  There is a very real possibility that we will see a drastic shortage of available hospital doctors after 1 August, which could have serious implications for patients.  In order to address this, we must be able to go easily beyond the confines of the UK to find highly skilled and qualified doctors who want to come and work here."

 

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