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Health boards waiting for a tragedy to happen

Health boards waiting for a tragedy to happen

National says health boards are not taking reports of junior doctors falling asleep at the wheel because they are so overworked seriously.

"You can't work people past the point of safety and that is what is happening at Hutt Hospital, in Hawkes Bay, Taranaki and Southland," says National Health Spokesperson Dr Lynda Scott.

The Resident Doctors Association has had complaints that registrar doctors are so tired after working longer than the maximum 16 hour shifts that they are crashing after falling asleep while driving to or from work.

"It seems these district health boards are waiting for someone to die before they take the issue seriously. Many of the shortages are in surgical specialities. If these people are so tired that they are falling asleep at the wheel then how can they be operating safely?

"With reports that seven junior doctors have fallen asleep at the wheel going to or from work in the past 18 months it's a miracle no one has been killed.

"I question the management practices of boards that put their doctors in the position of working such extreme hours that they and the public are at risk. This is happening because boards have not employed enough staff to cover the demand.

"Some boards simply expect doctors to work longer than the 16-hour maximum per day and 72-hour maximum a week in their contract. Instead of addressing the staff shortage problem these boards are budgeting to pay the one-off $550 payment to doctors for working excessive hours.

"I am most concerned that the temporary measure that Hutt Hospital is putting in place to give doctors a rest will not solve the problem of staff shortages. All these boards need to be addressing the same issue long-term," Dr Scott said.

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