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Junior doctors win test case against NHS trust over inadequate rest breaks

Trainee doctors have won a court case against a hospital trust over rest breaks which could have significant implications for the NHS.

Senior judges concluded that Derby Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s arrangements for monitoring breaks were in breach of trainees’ contracts.

The 21 doctors said the trust failed to make sure they either took proper breaks or were paid extra for working.

Lord Justice Bean said the trust’s method of calculating breaks was “irrational” and a breach of contract.

It is estimated the trainees could be owed £250,000 in unpaid salary.

Commenting, Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya, BMA junior doctors committee chair, said: “The ruling is a victory for junior doctors and confirms that trusts or health boards have been using commercial software that has underestimated the hard work, long hours and inadequate rest faced by junior doctors for years.

“In overturning last year’s ruling, the Court of Appeal has established a binding precedent in England and Wales regarding how monitoring of junior doctors on the 2002 contract should be done.”

NHS trainees should get a 30-minute break every four hours they work or be paid double for the time.

Dr Sarah Hallett, who trained at the Royal Derby Hospital for eight months with 20 other junior doctors in 2013, led the appeal after she lost a High Court challenge last April.

She said on Twitter: “Over 4 years after starting to look into my case, this is something of a bittersweet victory today. It should not have needed to escalate to this level to confirm the importance of accurately assessing if junior doctors are getting breaks.”

The Court of Appeal ruling over rest breaks is likely to act as a test case across the NHS.

Lord Justice Bean said the wider cost to the NHS is “potentially substantial”.

Wijesuriya added: “For those junior doctors on the 2002 contract, banding plays a vital role in ensuring trusts or health boards do not run overly fatiguing or unsafe rotas. Yet the widespread use and incorrect application of monitoring software resulted in trusts failing to pick up issues with working conditions, and potentially weakening the protections afforded to junior doctors in their contracts.

“These protections were put in place because it is recognised that junior doctors working long hours, in a system under pressure, with no provision for even a short break will be left exhausted. Throughout this case the BMA been clear that is it vitally important that working hours and the ability to take breaks are properly monitored, rotas are compliant, and sanctions enforced where trusts or health boards have not ensured that there are safe working practices in place.”

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