By The Nation
The move is in response to complaints from doctors, nurses and other health professionals that they are required to work too many hours each month.
Calls for a lighter workload from public-sector healthcare workers grew louder last year after three doctors reportedly succumbed to infections in hospitals. It is believed their immunity was weak due to their heavy workload.
Some doctors at state hospitals said they have put in over 320 hours a month due to the huge number of patients.
Public Health Ministry’s permanent secretary Sukhum Karnchanapimai yesterday invited representatives of different healthcare professions to discuss how best to improve medical staff’s work schedule. “We hope the revised schedule will ensure appropriate working hours for staff and quality services for patients,” he said.
Present at the meeting were representatives of doctors, pharmacists, dentists, nurses, physical therapists, medical technologists, practitioners of Thai traditional medicine, public-health academics and radiology technologists.
“Medical staff from all fields are important. We hope they are happy working and can forge good teamwork,” Sukhum said. According to him, members of these professions have different workloads. In some professions, people work 40 hours a week normally and another 40 hours as overtime.
Sukhum said representatives of these professions were asked to specify appropriate work hours and prepare information to back their points in the next meeting.
“We will meet again in two weeks,” he said, adding that mutual discussions will clarify how many people are necessary in the workforce.
He downplayed comments that an inefficient distribution of medical workers had forced some to work long hours. “We have allocated human resources based on the workload,” he said. “We also need to focus on specific missions that they or their organisations undertake.” Asked whether the new work schedule will affect the delivery of medical services, Sukhum said the improved schedule should benefit patients.
“Patient safety and service standards should increase when the work schedule is improved,” the permanent secretary for Public Health said.
Last year, the Medical Council announced that interns’ overtime hours should not exceed 40 a week. Their shifts in the emergency ward also should not exceed 16 consecutive hours each time and doctors above the age of 55 should not have to work beyond normal working hours.
Sukhum said he was aware that the Medical Council had already set such criteria.
“But what we are now working with will also apply to other doctors, not just interns,” he said.
As for nurses’ heavy workloads, Sukhum said he planned to ensure that nurses did not have to shoulder duties that are not related to their profession.
“For non-nursing work, other state officials should be able to help,” he said.