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Toll of night shifts has medics falling asleep at wheel

By Jane Kirby

More than four in 10 junior doctors have fallen asleep at the wheel after driving home from a night shift, research shows.

A poll of more than 1,100 junior doctors for the BBC Inside Out South programme found 41% had nodded off while driving away from work.

The programme detailed how Brian Connelly's daughter, Lauren, was driving home after her first night shift as a newly-qualified doctor when she died.

He said: "When she came off the night shift she phoned home and said 'I'm leaving', she had a chat with her mum and explained that the night shift had gone well.

"She was a bit concerned as it was a new experience of her being in charge and she was feeling quite pleased with herself. But nevertheless, on the journey back home, that period that she fell asleep..."

When Miss Connelly did not arrive home, her parents went out in their car to look for her.

"Because we were expecting her home. And we set off to find her. And while we were driving, we could see the accident on the other side of the road..."

Mr Connelly's campaign has cut the number of night shifts that can be worked in a row in Scotland from seven to five.

In another case, Dr Ronak Patel (33), a junior doctor from Gosport, Hampshire, was heading home to his pregnant wife.

He was driving after working three night shifts when his car was involved in a crash with a lorry.

Dr Patel died in the head-on collision.

According to evidence heard at an inquest in Bury St Edmunds, Dr Patel had probably fallen asleep.

Dr Michael Farquhar, who teaches junior doctors about rest, said: "The teaching that we do is all about making sure we encourage our junior doctors, our nursing colleagues, everybody who's working at night, that it is not a sign of weakness at all to take rests and breaks when we're working.

"There is very much a hero attitude in medicine and nursing that our own needs come second to the needs of the patient."

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