Background: There are currently no field data about the effect of implementing European Working Time Directive (EWTD)-compliant rotas in a medical setting. Surveys of doctors’ subjective opinions on shift work have not provided reliable objective data with which to evaluate its efficacy. \ud \ud Aim: We therefore studied the effects on patient's safety and doctors’ work-sleep patterns of implementing an EWTD-compliant 48 h work week in a single-blind intervention study carried out over a 12-week period at the University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust. We hypothesized that medical error rates would be reduced following the new rota. \ud \ud Methods: Nineteen junior doctors, nine studied while working an intervention schedule of <48 h per week and 10 studied while working traditional weeks of <56 h scheduled hours in medical wards. Work hours and sleep duration were recorded daily. Rate of medical errors (per 1000 patient-days), identified using an established active surveillance methodology, were compared for the Intervention and Traditional wards. Two senior physicians blinded to rota independently rated all suspected errors. \ud \ud Results: Average scheduled work hours were significantly lower on the intervention schedule [43.2 (SD 7.7) (range 26.0–60.0) vs. 52.4 (11.2) (30.0–77.0) h/week; P < 0.001], and there was a non-significant trend for increased total sleep time per day [7.26 (0.36) vs. 6.75 (0.40) h; P = 0.095]. During a total of 4782 patient-days involving 481 admissions, 32.7% fewer total medical errors occurred during the intervention than during the traditional rota (27.6 vs. 41.0 per 1000 patient-days, P = 0.006), including 82.6% fewer intercepted potential adverse events (1.2 vs. 6.9 per 1000 patient-days, P = 0.002) and 31.4% fewer non-intercepted potential adverse events (16.6 vs. 24.2 per 1000 patient-days, P = 0.067). Doctors reported worse educational opportunities on the intervention rota. \ud \ud Conclusions: Whilst concerns remain regarding reduced educational opportunities, our study supports the hypothesis that a 48 h work week coupled with targeted efforts to improve sleep hygiene improves patient safety. \ud \ud \ud \u
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