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The PPS Graduate Professional Index revealed that 93% of medical professionals agree that shorter working hours for junior doctors should be implemented across the country, and shifts should not be longer than 24 hours. The survey was conducted by PPS - the financial services provider focused on graduate professionals, and almost 400 South African medical professionals responded.
Motshabi Nomvethe, Technical Marketing Specialist at PPS, states that while the Western Cape’s provincial Department of Health reduced the shifts for young doctors from 30 hours to no longer than 24 hours, it is important that this regulation is implemented across the country to ensure safer working hours for medical interns.
Professor Mark Sonderup, Vice-Chairman of the South African Medical Association, says that the issue of working hours has been ongoing for many years, if not decades, but has never been addressed effectively. “Following the widely publicized tragic death of a young doctor earlier this year, the issue has been brought to the fore which has shed some light on the dire situation young doctors are currently faced with. This young doctor was involved in a car accident after allegedly falling asleep while driving on her way home after working a shift of at least 24 hours. What is not being reported are the stories about other doctors whom this has also happened to – this was one of many cases which was highlighted in the media.”
He indicated that international data suggests working continuously for 16 hours is problematic and is against prevailing data. “Therefore this reduction to 24 hour shifts, whilst a positive move, is still not in line with current evidenciary international best practice.”
According to Nomvethe, the PPS survey revealed that of the 93% of respondents who supported the shorter working hours, 44% said that it will ensure the mental and physical well-being of junior doctors while 38% said it will lead to better patient care. “We need our medical doctors to be in peak condition, to be able to provide better care for patients.”
When asked how unemployment impacts their profession as a whole, 41% of the survey respondents stated that medical professionals are over-worked due to staff shortages in hospitals. “Shorter working hours for junior doctors are likely to place even more strain on over-worked medical professionals in terms of the available pool of staff we have,” says Professor Sonderup.
He states that this is a core problem facing the healthcare sector. “There has to be a change in our healthcare system in terms of filling existing posts and we must increase the number of posts to ensure safe working hours for all healthcare workers.”
On a more positive note, Nomvethe explains that the survey also revealed that 65% of the respondents will encourage their children to enter their profession, with 59% of these respondents stating that it is because it is a personally rewarding career. “The majority of the respondents (60%) also stated that they are confident in the future of their profession, with 40% citing the main reason for their positivity is because it is a sought after profession, while 39% stated it is because they contribute positively to society.”
“It is clear that more has to be done to improve working hours for junior doctors in the country, but it is positive to note that some strides are being made in this plight. It is also vital that we see increased funding to make more posts available at hospitals and that more young people enter the healthcare profession to alleviate the problem of long working hours as a whole,” concludes Nomvethe.