The platform for Belgium's international community

Search form

menu menu
  • Daily & Weekly newsletters
  • Buy & download The Bulletin
  • Comment on our articles

Belgian doctor: ‘Patients die because of long shifts’

14:14 09/02/2018

A retired doctor shocked Radio 2 listeners this week with the statement that he and his colleagues “had to let people die” in hospital “because we simply couldn’t think anymore”. The radio interview followed an episode of Topdokters in which Leuven trauma surgeon Stefaan Nijs admitted to working more than 100 hours every week.

Professor emeritus Jef Van den Eende, who served for many years as the head of the Tropical Medicine department of Antwerp University Hospital, then took to the radio to discuss his training in internal medicine some decades ago.

“During my training, I often worked 60-hour shifts with no sleep,” he said. “This led to the sad situation of having to let people die because we simply couldn’t think anymore.”

Most patients in hospital, he continued, “are not being seen by a doctor who can still think straight”.

The problem isn’t a new one and yet structural change is slow in coming. Several years ago, the University of Leuven’s student newspaper ran a story on interns working 24-hour shifts, which is against the law. In Belgium, medical interns are only allowed to work 12 hours and then must have 12 hours off.

Doctor Sam Proesmans, who recently finished his four-year speciality training, also told Radio 2 that he often had to work 24 hours in the emergency department, and with no supervision. He published a tell-all article last December in Knack. “A few of my colleagues were chastised for sharing the article on social media,”  he said. “The message? That they should be worried about their futures.”

Written by Lisa Bradshaw