Duty hours for residents in institutions: an impact study should include all practising physicians

The Québec Medical Association (QMA) is preoccupied by the implications of the arbitrator’s ruling concerning a reduction in the length of residents’ shifts to 16 hours per day.

The QMA believes it is essential to broaden the scope of the issue, by examining the consequences of such duty hours among all practising physicians.

With this in mind, at the next General Council of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) in August, the QMA proposes to ask the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, which announced it would conduct a study on the duty hour restrictions for residents, to extend the study to the entire medical community.

For the QMA, this important issue is very closely related to the quality and safety of health care. It is necessary to pursue this matter to the end and to better define the real implications of this change in the organization of health care.

Background: 

On June 7, 2011, an arbitral tribunal in Québec received a grievance filed by the Association of Residents of McGill. The tribunal found that provision 12.14 of the residents’ collective agreement violated section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and section 1 of the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms in that it obliged residents in institutions to work 24-hour shifts. For this reason, it was declared to have no force or effect.

The tribunal ordered the employer (McGill University Health Centre) to change its duty hours in institutions so that shifts are reduced to a maximum of 16 hours per day. It gave the employer no more than six months to adapt the duty hours in institutions to comply with its ruling.

In the wake of this decision, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada announced on June 10, 2011, that it would examine the Québec duty hour decision in a national context and ultimately propose pan-Canadian standards addressing the issues of resident shifts.

Click here to view the arbitrator’s decision concerning the motion by the Fédération des médecins résidents du Québec (FMRQ).