Headlines: July 22nd, 2004

More young doctors are choosing general practice because jobs in hospitals are less likely to include opportunities to work part time, according to a study by the British Medical Association. The research also raises concerns about patient care when limits on junior doctors’ hours come into operation in less than two weeks’ time.The BMA’s cohort study of students who graduated in medicine in 1995 reveals a generation of doctors who want better balance between life and work. A quarter of the 490 doctors taking part in the survey are already working part-time and a further 45 per cent would like to in the future.

The study cites the flexibility of general practice as the main reason for a sharp rise in the numbers choosing to become family doctors. Almost half of the GPs surveyed were working less than full-time. Among hospital doctors fewer that ten per cent were working part time. The proportion of the cohort already working as GPs has increased from less than a quarter in 2001 to more than a third in 2003. The numbers planning to enter general practice rose from just 18% at graduation, to just over a third by 2003.

The study found that 7 per cent of the cohort have spent time practising overseas in the last year, in many cases because of the lure of improved working conditions. The survey shows long hours are still a problem for many young doctors. In August last year – when the survey was distributed – more than a half of senior house officers, the second job after graduating, were still working above their contracted hours.

Many junior doctors said the European Working Time Directive, which will introduce a maximum 58- hour working week from August 1st, had meant a more intense working life as the legislation meant many health trusts were replacing traditional on-call rotas with shift systems that required stretches of continuous work of up to thirteen hours. In cases where that has happened only two in five doctors believe the changes have been effective. Many complained that although their hours had gone down, they believed the quality of training and patient care had suffered.