Over 80 hours work a week deprives housemen of sufficient rest

14 Jan 2019 / 12:47 H.

PETALING JAYA: Are housemen at our government hospitals getting enough time to rest or are they being made to work long hours?

Although the Health Ministry introduced a new shift system some time ago, young doctors and housemen are still pulling extended shifts.

The issue is of serious concern not just from the point of exploitation, but because as doctors, they need to be at their best both physically and mentally since the lives of their patients are literally in their hands.

Besides the risk of making mistakes at work due to fatigue and sleep deprivation – like giving patients the wrong jab – the safety of the doctors themselves are at risk if they do not get sufficient rest, especially when they drive home after a long day at work.

Last week, it was reported that an intoxicated male nurse in India decapitated a baby during delivery, leaving the head in womb. Apparently, he had pulled at the baby too hard.

That may happen here as well if an overworked houseman becomes “zombiefied”.

Out of the same concern, the Transport Ministry recently beefed up enforcement against bus drivers who work long hours without adequate rest, as their jobs are equally critical.

Currently, housemen who are rotated to a different department every four months start with a whole two weeks without a break, before being rostered for 16-hour days with only one off day a week. Usually, they often have to be at the hospital for up to 18 hours a day.

Could it be that the duty schedules for housemen are being drawn up by junior hospital staff who do not have a proper appreciation of labour laws?

Health Director-General Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah defended the new shift system, claiming it was not as strenuous on housemen as the previous system.

He explained that housemen who are trainees now spend many hours following and observing their medical officers for learning purposes, compared to the previous system where they were actually put on call for up to 24 hours, that required greater alertness and was more draining.

“You have to understand that these housemen are not only working shift hours, but part of it is actually ‘tagging’, where they will learn from their superiors,” Noor Hisham said.

He claimed that despite long hours, the housemen would have sufficient breaks to ensure their health were well taken care of.

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