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Half of hospital docs work 'unsafe hours'

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July 15, 2017

Some doctors in Australia's public hospitals are working unsafe hours, a new audit has found.

More than half of doctors in Australia's public hospitals are working unsafe hours - some more than 70 hours in a single shift.

A new audit by the Australian Medical Association found that 53 per cent were on rosters that placed them at significant or higher risk of fatigue.

Intensive care physicians and surgeons were the most stretched.

One doctor reported working an unbroken 76-hour shift, alongside others who endured shifts of between 53 and 72 hours.

AMA president Michael Gannon was left dismayed.

"It is disappointing that work and rostering practices in some hospitals are still contributing to doctor fatigue and stress, which ultimately affect patient safety and quality of care and the health of the doctor," he said in a statement.

"It's no surprise that doctors at higher risk of fatigue reported working longer hours, longer shifts, more days on call, fewer days off, and skipping meal breaks."

The longest working week reported during the audit was 118 hours - the same as 2006 - while the average week came in at 78 hours.

Only 11 per cent, meanwhile, had two full days free of work, and just under half worked three or more days without a meal break.

Dr Gannon said the results confirm that the demands on public hospital doctors are still too great and has called on state and territory governments to redouble their efforts to ensure better rostering and safer work practices.

"Reducing fatigue-related risks does not necessarily mean doctors have to work fewer hours, just better structured and safer ones."

The 2016 audit is the fourth nationwide survey of doctors' working hours by the AMA since 2001.

A total of 716 salaried doctors and doctors-in-training were asked to keep an online diary of their work hours, on-call hours and sleep time over one week last November.

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