Australian doctors are working ‘unsafe’ shifts in the country’s public hospitals, according to an audit of hospital working conditions for doctors released by the Australian Medical Association (AMA).


The AMA Safe Hours Audit 2011 found that 53 per cent of Australian hospital doctors are working ‘unsafe hours’, classified as high risk or significant risk, with reports of continuous unbroken shifts of up to 43 hours.


AMA Vice President, Professor Geoffrey Dobb, said that State and Territory Governments and public hospital administrators must strengthen their efforts to ensure that they improve rostering and work practices for their doctors.


Professor Dobb said the audit shows how work rpactices contribute to doctor fatigue and ultimately negatively affect the quality of care and patient safety in the public hospital system.


“The performance impairment of a person after 17 hours of sustained wakefulness has been shown to be equivalent to that at a blood alcohol concentration greater than 0.05 per cent,” Professor Dobb said.


Despite the AMA finding some improvement since the first audit conducted in 2001, the association argues that more must be done expedite the reform to the country’s hospital’s work practices.


The AMA is pleased that there is an overall trend of continued improvement, but the 2011 audit clearly shows that extremes still exist and, in some cases, they have become worse.  For example:

  • in 2011, 21 per cent of doctors had no days free from work during the audit period;
  • the longest recorded shift increased from 39 hours in 2006 to 43 hours in 2011; and
  • the maximum total number of hours worked during the audit week actually went up - from 113 in 2006 to 120 in 2011.


The release of the audit coincides with a report conducted by the Universities of South Australia and New South Wales showed that the 43 per cent of patients are receiving sub quality care in the country’s health care institutions.



The average of total hours worked in the 2011 audit week for all hospital doctors was 55.1 hours.


Conducted in August 2011, the audit tabulated responses from more than 1486 public hospital doctors of all ages from all States and Territories.


The AMA Safe Hours Audit 2011 is at