"We live in an independent country and what we do in our hospitals and our NHS service should not be decided by bureaucrats in Brussels," said Kate Hoey MP this week during a parliamentary debate on the European Working Time Directive.
The Vauxhall Labour MP spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on the European Union working time directive – which sets a 48-hour working week and a maximum shift length of 13 hours – and its effects on the National Health Service
"I am privileged to have a great teaching hospital – Guy's and St Thomas', which is very near this place – in my constituency," said Kate Hoey.
"A tremendous amount of effort has gone in to ensure that patient care is at the centre of everything that happens there. A terrific amount of work was done by the previous chairman, Patricia Moberly, to ensure that, fundamentally, everything that happens in the hospital is about patient care.
"It does not just serve its local community of Lambeth, but the whole of London, the whole of the country and patients from all over the world.
"Understandably, the trust has implemented fully the EU directive. It is not, as was made clear to me, in the business of breaking the law.
"However, I have had many discussions about the directive, and the medical director of Guy's and St Thomas' [Dr Ian Abbs] told me that, despite doing everything possible to utilise more consultant presence out of normal working hours, and making every hour and minute count while a doctor in postgraduate training is at work, 'We are still left with a rigid template which is now seemingly outdated and needs revision for professional training.'
"Many points have been touched on, but he raised the specific issue of the 13-hour shift limit leading to multiple handovers in a 24-hour period. He suggested that even an extension to 15 hours on weekdays, with appropriate compensatory time off later, would deliver a service with better continuity of care."
The Vauxhall MP also quoted Dr Abbs as saying: "Patient care is a 24 hour activity and EWTD has led to fewer doctors being in the hospital out of normal, working hours. This is inconsistent with activity in hospitals going up all the time, at all times."
She continued: "That is the formal response from my wonderful hospital. There are many other things that they would not want to put down on paper or read out in the chamber, and I can understand why.
"From talking to many doctors, both training doctors and doctors with more experience, we know that what is actually being said is more serious than what is being said officially. It is much more stressful for many doctors to work in those patterns."
Later, Ms Hoey said: "Nobody will admit that there is a huge amount of fiddling of figures going on. The only way that people in charge know that they are perhaps going to save people's lives is to fiddle the figures and allow people to work outside the law.
"That is absolutely not trying to encourage that kind of behaviour in the NHS. I do not blame people for doing that, but it is a direct result of how we have got ourselves into this situation."
She added: "We live in an independent country and what we do in our hospitals and our NHS service should not be decided by bureaucrats in Brussels, with Governments misguidedly signing up to all sorts of things that the people of this country have never had any say in.
"I will go back to what I say in every debate on Europe: it is time for the people of this country to have a say on what they feel their relationship with Europe is all about. An important part of doing that is to get the European working time directive changed, so that we can honestly say that we parliamentarians have done our bit to ensure that patient safety is improved and made better than it will be if this continues."
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