Working time rules must be kept after Brexit, say medical leaders

Authors: Abi Rimmer 

Publication date:  21 Dec 2017

Working time protections must not be undermined as part of the UK’s departure from the European Union, medical leaders have said.

Representatives from the BMA, the British Dental Association, and 11 medical, nursing, and midwifery royal colleges have written to the prime minister asking her not to remove European Working Time Regulations from UK law.

The regulations ensure that doctors do not work more than an average of 48 hours a week and guarantee rights such as rest breaks and statutory paid leave and were fully incorporated into the NHS in 2009.

The letter, sent on 20 December, said that it would not be in the interests of staff to move away from the protections introduced by the regulations, “especially when there is, of course, the existing option for all workers to voluntarily opt out of these regulations.”[1]

It added, “Even with these regulations, we know that fatigue caused by excessive overwork remains an occupational hazard for many staff across the NHS, with tragic and not uncommon reports of road accidents after falling asleep at the wheel.”

The organisations called on Theresa May to not renege on a commitment she made at the Conservative Party conference in October to guarantee workers’ existing legal rights in law when the UK left the EU. “We urge you not to renege on this commitment: Brexit must not be used as an excuse to overwork any staff group,” the letter said.

However, the Royal College of Surgeons of England, which was not a signatory to the letter, said that it thought that the Working Time Regulations had become “an inflexible straightjacket that desperately needs reform.” It said that a 2013 review carried out by the college found that the regulations were undermining the training of doctors in specialties where hands-on training time was needed.[2]

A college spokesperson said, “We urge the government to consider, post-Brexit, how we can strengthen and enhance working rules in the NHS.”

The spokesperson added, “The EWTD is, of course, just one of the problems with medical training in this country and further action is necessary to safeguard the future of our medical workforce. We believe that a highly trained medical workforce, given the protected time to learn all the necessary skills for such a demanding job as medicine, is a good investment for patients.”

Full list of signatories

Chaand Nagpaul, chair of council, BMA

Liam Brennan, president, Royal College of Anaesthetists

Neena Modi, president, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

Jane Dacre, president, Royal College of Physicians

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary, Royal College of Nursing

Gill Walton, chief executive, Royal College of Midwives

Michael Lavelle-Jones, president, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

Mick Armstrong, chair, British Dental Association

Michael Burdon, president, Royal College of Ophthalmologists

Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of council, Royal College of General Practitioners

Nicola Strickland, president, Royal College of Radiologists

Taj Hassan, president, Royal College of Emergency Medicine

Lesley Regan, president, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists


  1. BMA. Working time regulations. Dec 2017. [Link] .
  2. Rimmer A. Why can’t medical training be delivered in a 48 hour week? BMJ Careers 6 Oct 2017. [Link]

Abi Rimmer The BMJ

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: