Sun, Nov 13, 2011 - Page 2 News List

Lawmaker seeks a legal limit on hours doctors can work

Staff Writer, with CNA

A legislator on Friday called on the government to include physicians under the country’s labor laws to better regulate their workload and thereby prevent occupational-related illnesses or even death.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Huang Sue-ying (黃淑英) quoted Department of Health statistics saying that medical professionals in Taiwan work an average of 75 hours a week.

That workload was well beyond the physical and mental endurance of most people. It was likely to compromise the quality of medical services offered and in extreme cases even put the lives of patients at risk, Huang said at a hearing held to address the issue.

The department has defended the practice, saying that the work hours of local residents do not differ markedly from their counterparts in the US, but Huang said that explanation was unacceptable. He demanded that the workload of doctors be legally limited.

“A doctor operating on a patient after working for 24 straight hours is as dangerous as a drunk driver,” she said.

Taiwan Labor Front -secretary-general Son Yu-lian (孫友聯) urged the Council of Labor Affairs to include doctors in the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) to protect their rights. The act caps work hours at 84 hours over two weeks for salaried employees, but doctors are not covered by the law because they are not categorized as salaried workers.

Bureau of Medical Affairs Director Shih Chung-liang (石崇良) acknowledged that doctors in Taiwan do work too many hours, but said a support mechanism would be needed if doctors’ hours were reduced to protect the rights of patients.

The relatives of two doctors, who believe their loved ones died or became seriously ill as a result of overwork, attended the public hearing to push for legal limits on physicians’ workloads.

The father of Lin Yen-ting (林彥廷), a 25-year-old medical student who died in April after being on duty for 36 straight hours, said he had found it difficult to accept his son’s death.

The wife of Tsai Po-chiang (蔡伯羌), a former surgical resident at Chi Mei Hospital, said that her husband, who worked long hours, including a 42-hour stint at one point, collapsed outside an operating room two years ago. Tsai survived, but has since suffered memory problems. The family received a payment of NT$62,000, but is now demanding that the hospital pay medical bills of more than NT$200,000.

The most recent case of a doctor possibly dying from overwork occurred on Aug. 5, when Lin Hsing-yu (林星佑), from Kaohsiung Chang Kung Memorial Hospital, died suddenly at home. However, the hospital said that Lin had a history of heart disease and was not overworked before his death. He worked in the ultrasonic lab in the cardiology department and had 10 12-hour shifts in the emergency room each month.

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