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Sinn Fein concern at ability of Department of Health to comply with EU working time directive

24 August, 2004

Sinn Féin Health spokesperson, Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd MLA has expressed concern at the ability of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to ensure compliance with the introduction of the European Working Time Directive for doctors in training.

Mr O'Dowd said:

"I have recently been contacted by the BMA with regard to the implementation of the European Working Time Directive (EWTD). I share the concerns expressed by the BMA about the ability of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to ensure full compliance with the EWTD. Those concerns have been exacerbated as a result of correspondence between Mr Paul Simpson (the Deputy Secretary of the Strategic, Planning and Modernising Group within the DHSSPS) and the BMA."

"Mr Simpson makes reference to awaiting 'definitive guidance from the EU Commission on the implementation of the EWTD'. Yet, the working time directive has been incorporated into law, and since August 1 the onus is now on the Department to ensure full compliance. As the EWTD has already been tested twice at the European Court of Justice in both 1998 and 2002, it is hard to understand exactly what 'definitive guidance' Mr Simpson and the DHSSPS are waiting for.

"I realise that full compliance with the EWTD poses major challenges for the Department and for health service providers. However, ultimate responsibility for ensuring compliance with the EWTD lies with the Department. To learn that the Department is awaiting 'definitive guidance from the EU' on a matter that is now law would appear to be a case of the Department seeking to shirk responsibility for ensuring such compliance.

"I have written to the health minister Angela Smith MP asking for clarification on this matter so that the issue can be satisfactorily addressed for the benefit of all concerned including health employers, medical staff, doctors and most importantly, patients." ENDS

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