The European Commission’s infringement procedure against Ireland over unsafe NCHD working hours is “closed”, despite growing concern among doctors about non-compliance with the 48-hour average working week and continuing prevalence of 24-hour shifts.
The accuracy of HSE data has also come under greater scrutiny at the IMO, which has said many hospitals are submitting data on rostered, rather than worked, hours. The union recently launched a new survey of NCHDs, which includes a question aimed at identifying sites that may be seeking to conceal shifts over 24 hours – an allegation the IMO has heard anecdotally.
A European Commission spokesperson told the Medical Independent it opened the infringement procedure in 2009 “due to the failure of public hospitals to apply in practice the requirements of the Working Time Directive to non-consultant hospital doctors”.
“Doctors in training were indeed asked to work highly excessive hours without adequate rest. Following regular reporting by Ireland on progress made towards compliance with the Directive, in November 2018 the Commission decided to close the infringement.” Ireland submitted 20 progress reports on a quarterly basis.
“The Commission has had no reason to put into question the accuracy of the data communicated by the Irish authorities.”
In 2016, internal briefing materials for the then Minister for Health Simon Harris warned of the potential for Ireland to again be referred to the European Court of Justice over the issue.
The HSE plans to reconvene the national EWTD verification group, whose site visits had been suspended amid Covid-19, according to the Department of Health. It said HSE Acute Operations regularly reviews the data with Hospital Groups.