By Claire West

The European Commission has announced a consultation to amend the European Working Time Directive (EWTD) which currently stops people from working more than an average 48 hours a week.

The consultation follows extensive work by the NHS European Office. The Office, part of the NHS Confederation, has been calling for the European Commission to understand the problems for the healthcare sector associated with the European Working time Directive rules.

The consultation document, drawn up by the European Commission, acknowledges that laws limiting working hours need to be changed to address problems they cause for sectors such as healthcare. It includes:

proposals to change the way on call time is counted

greater flexibility in how rest periods are enforced.

Elisabetta Zanon, director of the NHS European Office, said:

"The European Working Time Directive is an important safeguard which aims to protect patients from receiving substandard care from tired doctors. But if it is to have maximum benefit for patients it must provide greater flexibility than what it currently offers to both staff and employers.

“This consultation aims to address the issue of what is appropriate, for employers, staff and patients.

“We want to ensure that policy makers hear the views of the NHS so that common sense can prevail over decisions such as these which have a significant impact on both the NHS and its patients.”