In a decision which will cost the NHS many millions of pounds, the Court of Appeal has ruled that a hospital trust failed to properly monitor a group of junior doctors’ working patterns so as to ensure that they received adequate rest breaks.
In a test case backed by the British Medical Association, a junior doctor argued that she and 20 colleagues who were in their foundation year at a teaching hospital were not afforded a contractual minimum of 30 minutes of natural breaks during each four-hour shift. Her breach of contract claim was, however, rejected by a judge.
In upholding her appeal against that ruling, the Court found that the terms and conditions of service under which she worked required the rest break target to be met during at least 75 per cent of rostered duty periods. The software-driven method used by the trust to monitor compliance with that obligation produced skewed results, albeit inadvertently, due to its reliance on artificially produced expected data as opposed to data actually recorded for each duty period.
In those circumstances, the Court found that the monitoring method employed by the trust was irrational and in breach of contract. Had a compliant method been used, it would have been discovered that the requirement to ensure that at least 75 per cent of natural breaks were taken was being breached.
The Court’s ruling means that the 21 doctors concerned in the case are entitled to receive a back-dated 100 per cent supplement to their basic pay during the relevant eight-month period. Their entitlements come to about £250,000 but, as the same flawed monitoring method has been used by hospitals across the country, the overall cost to the NHS will be many times that sum.