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Implementing a 48 h EWTD-compliant rota for junior doctors in the UK does not compromise patients’ safety: assessor-blind pilot comparison

F. P. Cappuccio , A. Bakewell , F. M. Taggart , G. Ward , C. Ji , J. P. Sullivan , M. Edmunds , R. Pounder , C. P. Landrigan , S. W. Lockley , E. Peile
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/qjmed/hcp004 First published online: 27 January 2009


Background: There are currently no field data about the effect of implementing European Working Time Directive (EWTD)-compliant rotas in a medical setting. Surveys of doctors’ subjective opinions on shift work have not provided reliable objective data with which to evaluate its efficacy.

Aim: We therefore studied the effects on patient's safety and doctors’ work-sleep patterns of implementing an EWTD-compliant 48 h work week in a single-blind intervention study carried out over a 12-week period at the University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust. We hypothesized that medical error rates would be reduced following the new rota.

Methods: Nineteen junior doctors, nine studied while working an intervention schedule of <48 h per week and 10 studied while working traditional weeks of <56 h scheduled hours in medical wards. Work hours and sleep duration were recorded daily. Rate of medical errors (per 1000 patient-days), identified using an established active surveillance methodology, were compared for the Intervention and Traditional wards. Two senior physicians blinded to rota independently rated all suspected errors.

Results: Average scheduled work hours were significantly lower on the intervention schedule [43.2 (SD 7.7) (range 26.0–60.0) vs. 52.4 (11.2) (30.0–77.0) h/week; P < 0.001], and there was a non-significant trend for increased total sleep time per day [7.26 (0.36) vs. 6.75 (0.40) h; P = 0.095]. During a total of 4782 patient-days involving 481 admissions, 32.7% fewer total medical errors occurred during the intervention than during the traditional rota (27.6 vs. 41.0 per 1000 patient-days, P = 0.006), including 82.6% fewer intercepted potential adverse events (1.2 vs. 6.9 per 1000 patient-days, P = 0.002) and 31.4% fewer non-intercepted potential adverse events (16.6 vs. 24.2 per 1000 patient-days, P = 0.067). Doctors reported worse educational opportunities on the intervention rota.

Conclusions: Whilst concerns remain regarding reduced educational opportunities, our study supports the hypothesis that a 48 h work week coupled with targeted efforts to improve sleep hygiene improves patient safety.

    This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (<http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/uk/>) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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