Twitter war of words exposes unpaid overtime crisis 

Medical politics

By Tessa Hoffman

4 Dec 2017

A medical leader has apologised for suggesting it is okay for trainee doctors to work regular unpaid overtime in service to the hospital system.

Associate Professor Grant Phelps, director of clinical governance at Central Adelaide Local Health Network, ignited a frenzy after making the comment on Twitter.

“What’s overtime when you’ve got a job to do? We’re all joined in building a better system. Doesn’t fit with regular “hours” if you want to do it properly”.

Professor Phelps, associate professor of clinical leadership at Deakin University and president of the RACP’s adult medicine division, was responding to a tweet by a doctor condemning the practice of asking trainees not to claim overtime for the sake of their patients, something the limbic has been told is commonplace in hospitals across the nation.

Professor Phelps later apologised for his “insensitive” tweet and deleted it.

He declined to comment on the matter.

But commentators say it has thrown the spotlight on an issue the profession needs to address.

In the twitter thread, doctors shared firsthand encounters with the problem.

One describing watching a consultant “gleefully erasing hours from a trainee’s overtime sheet as she looked on in dismay”.

Another wrote: “I was asked not to put in overtime, because we “weren’t allowed to be working overtime”… 20h/wk unpaid but claimed overtime became normal.”

A third doctor said he’d heard “horror stories of consultants threatening to get interns fired or fail terms if they pushed to be paid overtime”.

AMA Council of Doctors in Training chair Dr John Zorbas said the practice was “extremely common” and “a symptom of the bigger problem of badly funded and badly structured healthcare systems”.

“If we continue to accept unpaid overtime as a feature of our healthcare system, then we will continue to harm our patients, our relationships, our careers and our lives,” Dr Zorbas said.

“If we recognise that unpaid overtime is a sign of a system under stress, then we can use this as the starting point for real systems improvement.

We can make sure that our doctors work safe hours. We can make sure that they’ve got the time that they need to stay physically and mentally healthy. We can make sure our patients get the care that they deserve.

“That’s the kind of healthcare system we should be striving for, and robbing doctors of their precious few free hours does nothing to achieve that kind of reality.”

Already a member?

Login to keep reading.

Email me a login link