Stellenbosch University
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Safe Working Hours Campaign
Author: Wilma Stassen & Koot Kotze
Published: 16/05/2014

Medical students at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences are part of a group of interns and community service doctors petitioning the minister of health to reduce the working hours of junior doctors that can currently stretch up to 36 hours.

"South African interns and community service doctors are working continuous shifts, commonly of 28 hours but sometimes up to 36 hours, with no or little rest. The result is an increase in medical errors which can harm or lead to the death of patients," reads the mission statement of the Safe Working Hours Campaign.

Research shows that after being awake for 24 hours, a person's cognitive psychomotor performance decreases to a level similar to that of someone with a blood alcohol level double that of the South African legal driving limit.

The group argues that exhausted doctors are a danger to themselves and their patients. "Stringent procedures are in place to limit the working hours in professions such as aviation and commercial drivers to ensure the safety of travellers. The same safety standards should be applied to the medical profession," reads the statement.

The campaign is calling for Minister Aaron Motsoaledi to limit the maximum duration of a shift for a junior doctor to 24 hours and to stop the practice where interns work overtime hours not stipulated in their contracts.

The Safe Working Hours campaigners elaborated: "We understand that South Africa is facing a critical staff shortage, but we are questioning the way in which health systems deal with this. The situation of interns flip-flops between that of trainee and vulnerable employee, as is convenient for hospital administrations and the department of health. 

 "Stellenbosch University Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences prides itself on training graduates that are scholars and health advocates – and this campaign is the logical outflow of this output.  The evidence is unambiguous – working more than 24 hours continuously leads to poor performance and increased medical error.  Some institutions have adapted call rosters which use shorter, more frequent shifts in order to maximise the value of man-hours and improve patient safety.  We accept the fact that there are too few doctors, but we contend that the current solution is maladaptive and in need of serious scrutiny.

"The Safe Working Hours Campaign is a call to action to review the concept of continuous shift work on which so much of our medical infrastructure is based, and to inform the public that this practise conflicts with the best available evidence and violates patients' rights to a safe environment."

To view the petition online visit:

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Contact the campaigners directly at



Marielle RusMarielle Rus2014-05-17T10:23:57ZIt is time that working hours of all healthcare workers should be looked at. Not only interns and community service doctors. Nursing staff are all over worked, underappreciated and there is no incentive for them to work towards. Registrars carry a much bigger responsibility than they did as intern or community service doctors. After hours they also need to study and work on research to be able to complete their degree. This while trying to balance a family. The argument of "that is their choice" is small minded and ridiculous. If we want to improve our health care systems, medical personnel should be encouraged to further themselves in their career. Whether it is to work as a general practitioner or as specialist. Every facet is important in striving to better patient care. The problem is that we are all so over worked and burned out that we do not have the time or the energy to fight the system. That is the most dangerous place to be as we all just go into passionless auto pilot and the system win. We need masses to stand together and fight for better working conditions for ALL health care personnel, because if we can get the moral up our patients would get the care they deserve. If only I had time and energy…