Doctors in uproar over parliament’s decision to approve additional overtime for medics

The Czech Parliament has approved a bill which would allow additional voluntary overtime for workers in the healthcare sector of up to 1000 hours per year. The decision has provoked an outcry from doctors, with some threatening to stop working overtime altogether.

Although the newly approved bill touches on several areas affecting the work of doctors, the part that has sparked controversy is a stipulation increasing the amount of voluntary overtime that they are allowed to work. Critics point out that the regulation allows the number of overtime hours medics work per year to roughly double – up to 832 hours for doctors and 1000 hours for paramedics.

Martin Kočí | Photo: Tereza Kunderová,  Czech Radio

The law was passed despite opposition from young doctors, who called on politicians on Monday to reject the bill. Martin Kočí, the chairman of the Association of Young Doctors, told Czech Radio last week that long hours affect the ability of doctors to do their jobs properly.

"It is impossible to imagine that any person would be able to stay focused and work continuously for 26 hours straight. That is simply impossible. There are jobs where you simply can’t do more than 12 hours."

A survey on the mental health of doctors conducted by the association revealed that 70 percent suffer from exhaustion, 46 percent from burnout, 37 percent from psychosomatic problems, 33 percent from anxiety disorders, 28 percent from depression, 20 percent from abuse of alcohol, medication or drugs, and 17 percent from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Marian Jurečka | Photo: archive of the Office of Czech Government

Labour and Social Affairs Minister Marian Jurečka emphasised on Monday before meeting with the doctors’ union that the legislation is about overtime that is purely voluntary, and no one will be forced to work more than they want or are able to.

"This is about optional overtime work. The limit for mandatory overtime that is in the Labour Code will not change in any way – it will remain at 150 hours per year. Everything else is subject to agreement."

However, opponents of the amendment say that in practice, it is almost impossible to refuse overtime and many end up working far beyond the mandatory limit. Jan Přáda, chairman of the Young Doctors Section of the Czech Medical Chamber, told Czech Radio last week that the idea of overtime being voluntary is nonsense.

Jan Přáda | Photo:

“Choice in this context is simply an illusion. If young doctors don’t volunteer to work overtime, their employer can decide – and this happens all the time – not to grant them the legally mandatory internships and shifts that they need in order to complete their postgraduate qualification. Also, if you refuse to work overtime, then it means putting an extra burden on your colleagues, which no one wants to do.”

According to Jan Přáda, 4,000 of the 20,000 doctors working in hospitals joined the appeal to politicians not to approve the amendment. Last week, they announced that if the law is passed, in December one fifth of doctors working in hospitals are prepared to refuse any additional overtime beyond the mandatory hours they are required to do.

Authors: Anna Fodor , Tomáš Pancíř | Sources: , ČTK
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