A junior doctor today admitted she was “terrified” that new shift patterns would leave her so tired that she makes an error that harms a child.

The shock admission from the medic – who works in one of London’s busiest paediatric units – comes as the High Court today began hearing a bid to declare the new junior doctor contracts illegal.

A two-day hearing brought by the Justice for Health group is seeking to prevent Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt from imposing the new conditions next month under his plans for a “seven-day NHS”.

The junior doctor, who asked not to be identified, told the Standard: “I’m scared that working this rota will make me unwell and miserable. I’m terrified that because of this shift pattern I could be so tired at work that I make a mistake that harms a child.”


Her hospital has just issued a new 10-week rota (above). Compared to the same period last year, junior doctors are being required to work more days without a break. One stretch involves three 12.5-hour days followed by three night shifts. Another is of 85 hours over nine consecutive days.

Bosses admitted that staff shortages and the difficulty of finding locum doctors had resulted in an increased demand on the hospital’s junior medics. Their duties include caring for seriously ill newborn babies, infants in intensive care and sick children arriving at A&E.

“No doctor can make safe, rational decisions when they are that overtired, and I wouldn’t want my child looked after by someone who has been forced to work such draining shift patterns,” she said. “I have got no issue with tough [shifts]. I don’t mind tough. I do mind unsafe.”


It comes as the head of one of London’s biggest hospital trusts admitted the NHS was “killing” its doctors with 18-hour shifts.

Sir Richard Sykes, chairman of Imperial College Healthcare Trust, told Save our Hospitals campaigners (see video above) at the Imperial AGM: “The NHS is suffering today very badly. If you go back to 1948, it has gone through these periods when it’s always been cash-strapped. Today it’s really cash-strapped. Eighty per cent of trusts are now in deficit.

“The capacity just isn’t there at the moment. The finances are very, very strained. Our people work extremely hard. This belief we are ‘inefficient’ is a joke.

“Nobody likes to tell the truth… the problem is funding. These people [doctors] work 18 hours a day. They are unbelievably efficient. But we are killing them now. This is the problem.

An edited version of this article appears in the Evening Standard today and on its website: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/health/junior-doctor-terrified-of-hurting-child-over-new-shifts-ahead-of-high-court-challenge-a3348411.html