Doctors not ruling out strike action over long hours

Doctors not ruling out strike action over long hours

Doctors are fighting for the right to sleep in their beds - not at the wheel of their cars on the way home.

A lack of money and patients with increasingly complex problems are forcing resident doctors to forgo breaks and rest, according to their union, the NZ Resident Doctors Association (NZRDA).

A recent survey of NZRDA's 3600 members found 275 of them had fallen asleep while driving home after shifts that can be as long as 16 hours, 12 days in a row.

"We're all tired on Friday when we're going home for the weekend," national secretary Deborah Russell told Paul Henry on Thursday. "Imagine what you'd feel like if you had the weekend to go, two 16-hour shifts over the weekend, and then another week... 12 shifts in a row."

Doctors not ruling out strike action over long hours

Dr Russell says when she was a house surgeon, the hours were just as bad - but the demands were much lower.

"We slept through the night. We were on duty, but we had beds and we went to sleep and nurses woke us when they needed us. These days, the doctors are up all day, all night - they don't stop. They don't get time for a meal break, they grab a cup of coffee on the run."

Doctors not ruling out strike action over long hours

And the work they're expected to do is also on another level.

"Patients these days are sicker. In my day they had 'a' problem. These days, they come in with two or three problems."

Almost a third of the doctors surveyed said they'd made a mistake affecting a patient because they were tired. Dr Russell says it would only take another 140 doctors to fix the problem, but the district health boards just don't have the money.

Ironically, she says it wouldn't cost much more to just hire additional doctors because DHBs wouldn't have to pay the existing crew as much, since they'll be doing fewer hours.

Strike action would be an "indictment" on the health system, but the NZRDA isn't ruling it out.

"Doctors are really serious about this."

So far, only 13 of the 150 nationwide rosters meet the NZRDA's requirements.