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: http://tiny.cc/safeworkinghours
Follow the petition on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SafeWorkingHours
Contact the campaigners directly at email@example.com