Urgent action is needed to prevent a potential staffing crisis in the NHS, according to a new Lords report examining the Working Time Directive.

From 1 August the Directive will be extended to junior hospital doctors. Their working hours will be limited to 58 hours, and will be reduced to 48 hours by 2009, but two judgments of the European Court of Justice on compensatory rest periods for hospital doctors on resident on-call duty threaten to create serious difficulties for the NHS.

The Chairman of the Sub-Committee, Lord Williamson of Horton, said:

"Even though the NHS is experimenting with innovative ways of reducing hospital doctors' working time, these rulings mean that it cannot possibly comply with this Directive by August."

"We've been told that the effect would be tantamount to losing the equivalent of 3,700 junior doctors. Patients' health must not be put at risk. Nor should  NHS service or medical training standards suffer."

"The UK Government and the Commission must work out a practical solution that improves working conditions for junior doctors over a more realistic timescale."

"One of these European Court rulings ( SiMAP) holds that hospital doctors may count hours spent asleep on call as working time. The other ( Jaeger) says that they are entitled to immediate compensatory rest for any resident on-call duties, even if they have been able to rest. The first might be a basis for improvements over time. The second just doesn't make sense."

In a separate press release the Committee says the UK should keep its controversial working time opt out.


1. The SiMAP judgment in 2000 found that time spent asleep by doctors on call counts as working time. Because of the relative shortage of doctors in the UK, and our traditional training methods, the inquiry was told it will be impossible for the NHS to comply with this ruling by August.

 2. The Jaeger ruling in 2003 found doctors are entitled to immediate compensatory rest after resident on-call duties, even if they have been able to rest. The Committee found this interpretation "perverse" and "completely impractical".

3. This is the first report by Sub-Committee G of the European Union Select Committee of the House of Lords. The Sub-Committee was set up in January 2004 to enhance the House of Lords scrutiny of European legislative proposals on social policy and consumer affairs.

4. The Chairman of the Sub-Committee is Lord Williamson of Horton who was Secretary-General of the European Commission from 1987 to 1997.

5. The other members of the Committee are:

Baroness Brigstocke

Lord Colwyn

Lord Dundee

Baroness Greengross

Baroness Howarth of Breckland

Lord Harrison

Lord Howie of Troon

Baroness Massey of Darwen

6. The report is published by the Stationery Office: The Working Time Directive: A Response to the European Commission's Review, Lords Select Committee on the European Union, 9th Report, Session 2003−04, HL Paper 67, ISBN 0104004355, price £12.00. The full text of the report will be available on the internet via shortly after publication.

7. The Working Time Directive became law in the UK in 1998. It fixes the working hours at 48 hours in every 7 days, averaged over 4 months. Workers have the right to opt-out from this is they wish.

8. Most other EU Member States have also complained about the Jaeger judgement. France and Spain have chosen to apply the opt-out to their health sectors. Austria, Germany and the Netherlands are planning to do so, as are several candidate Member States.

Further information from:

Gordon Baker

Clerk of the Sub-Committee, on 020 7219 6635

Jillian Bailey

Press and Publicity Officer (Committees), on 020 7219 8659