The European Commission has decided to refer Ireland to the EU's Court of Justice for not complying with the EU rules on limits to working time for doctors in public health services.
In particular, Ireland fails to ensure that in practice these doctors work no more than 48 hours per week on average, including any overtime.
Irish national law respects the requirements of the EU's Working Time Directive by providing for limits to doctors’ working time. However, in practice public hospitals often do not apply the rules to doctors in training or other non-consultant hospital doctors.
There are still numerous cases where junior doctors are regularly required to work continuous 36-hour shifts, to work over 100 hours in a single week and 70-75 hours per week on average, and to continue working without adequate breaks for rest or sleep.
The Commission considers this situation a serious infringement of the EU's Working Time Directive, endangering not only doctors' health and safety but also their patients as over-tired doctors risk making mistakes.
The Commission became aware of the infringement following national reports highlighting the lack of compliance, and after receiving a complaint from an Irish doctors' organisation. The Commission already requested Ireland on several occasions to take the necessary measures to ensure that the practice of public authorities complies with the Directive.
While the Irish authorities have replied to those requests, the concrete progress made in practice is simply insufficient, given the excessive number of hours doctors are still required to work in Ireland.