20% of junior doctors in S'pore work more than 80 hours a week, MOH reviewing working conditions

A new tripartite workgroup will also work to prevent of abuse and harassment of healthcare workers.

Zi Shan Kow | March 09, 2022, 06:16 PM

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Senior Minister of State for Health Koh Poh Koon revealed that one in five junior doctors in Singapore exceeded the stipulated 80-hour work week.

During the Ministry of Health's (MOH) Committee of Supply debate on Mar. 9, Koh also said that MOH has set up a national wellness committee to improve the working conditions of junior doctors, as well as a new tripartite workgroup against abuse of healthcare workers.

Working more than 80 hours a week

Koh said that one group of concern are junior doctors who have to do long shifts on night calls.

"Survey showed that 20 per cent of all junior doctors exceeded the stipulated 80-hour work week," Koh revealed.

Singapore Medical Council guidelines stipulate that junior doctors may work up to 80 hours a week, including overnight duties of not more than 24 hours, with up to six hours after that for handover or training, he said.

These guidelines are benchmarked against the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education’s recommendations in the United States.

Beyond just a work hour issue

Koh said that the nature of clinical work in certain departments or exigencies of service could affect work hours.

"Whether it is 24-hour or 30-hour shifts, what is clear is that we should not stretch our junior doctors beyond what is physiologically possible and what would risk compromising patient safety," he added.

He acknowledged the stresses faced by junior doctors are "symptomatic of a wider need for transformation in the current care delivery arrangements".

Additionally, Koh said that framing the issue as a work hour issue is "simplistic", and is not "diagnosing the root cause of the problem".

Committee to improving junior doctors' well-being

As a first step, MOH has formed a national wellness committee for junior doctors in December 2021, reported The Straits Times.

The committee will "aim to review and recommend changes to existing healthcare practices and guidelines to improve and ensure the well-being of junior doctors," said Koh.

Co-led by senior doctors from all three healthcare clusters and MOH, the committee will focus on three main areas:

  • Junior doctor workflow models and work hour norms
  • Career development and training of junior doctors
  • Promoting a more inclusive culture where junior doctors can feel safe in speaking up on matters related to their safety and wellness

Koh said that the ministry aims to put forth preliminary recommendations by the middle of this year, so that some immediate measures can be implemented.

The final recommendations will eventually be completed by early 2023.

New tripartite workgroup against abuse

Koh also noted that cases of abuse and harassment towards healthcare workers are on the rise.

There were about 1,500 such cases by end-2021, an increase from 1,080 cases in 2018.

"Our healthcare workers should feel safe and to be able to call out abuse to allow them to focus their energies with the right frame of mind on doing their best for their patients," said Koh.

A new tripartite workgroup was set up in March this year for the prevention of abuse and harassment of healthcare workers, said Koh.

The group includes representatives from MOH, the healthcare services employees union, and public healthcare clusters.

It will spearhead a coordinated national effort to prevent abuse and harassment of healthcare workers in the public, private and community care sectors of healthcare workers.

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