“We are there to look after our patients,” she said.
“When you are working that hard and don’t have enough staff your patients are at risk. We want it to be safe for them and for us.”
Gordon Legal and Hayden Stephens and Associates, the law firms which represented Bolton, said the court’s ruling was a clear turning point for junior doctors in their campaign to put an end to dangerous working hours.
Peninsula Health’s chief medical officer, associate professor Shyaman Menon, said the service acknowledged the judgment and was reviewing it closely.
“Our junior doctors are an important part of the future of our organisation and we acknowledge the important contribution they make across all our hospitals and healthcare sites,” he said.
It has been estimated that junior doctors routinely work around 16 hours of overtime a week, most of it unpaid.
Studies have found this demand has left trainee doctors exhausted and stressed and increased the chances of clinical errors due to the excessive workload, which has raised concerns that the burnout affecting junior medicos was putting patients at risk.
One survey, conducted by the NSW branch of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), found clinical mistakes included medication errors and forgetting to relay crucial information during shift handovers, forgetting to check test results, missing steps when examining patients and overlooking a critical question when taking a patient’s history.
This masthead also previously reported on a further ongoing class action being taken by dozens of Melbourne trainee doctors against Sunshine Hospital, amid claims they are working beyond exhaustion, underpaid and not given mandatory clinical training.
One doctor at the time described instances in which registrars were on call for 10 days straight or not given a 10-hour break between shifts, and said it wasn’t uncommon to see junior doctors crying in the residential quarters “because they felt so overstretched, overworked and that they weren’t doing their job well enough”.
Gordon Legal partner Andrew Grech said it was time the Victorian government acted, and called on Peninsula Health and state’s Department of Health secretary, professor Euan Wallace, to commit to ending wage theft among trainee doctors.
“It is time for the Andrews government to intervene,” Grech said.
His call was echoed by AMA Victorian president Jill Tomlinson, who urged the government to focus on fixing the health system and the staffing crisis in hospitals, rather than fighting junior doctors in courts.
“Structural change will only occur when hospitals are forced to acknowledge and reduce overtime,” Tomlinson said.
“All we ask is that junior doctors employed in the Victorian health system be paid for the hours they work according to their fair entitlements, agreed to by their very own employers.”
Roderick McRae, the president of the Victorian arm of the Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation, called on the government to stop paying millions of dollars in legal costs and end “this senseless drain on valuable hospital resources”.
“Our health system is already under stress. Work with us, not against us, to try to resolve this crisis,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Victorian government said it took the welfare of its healthcare workforce seriously.
“We’ve made it clear that wage theft is not tolerated in Victoria,” she said.
“The Department of Health and Peninsula Health are carefully considering the decision handed down on Friday afternoon, and we are not in a position to make any further comment at this point.”