The South African Medical Association (SAMA) has launched an armband campaign that requires doctors to wear specific colour armbands to show how long they have been on call.

A green armband indicates the doctor has worked less than 24 consecutive hours, indicating the medical professional is still alert and able to perform optimally; an orange armband indicates the doctor has worked more than 24 hours but less than 30 hours; and a red armband indicates the doctor has worked more than 30 consecutive hours. A doctor with a red armband is a potential risk and should be allowed to rest.

The excessive working hours that doctors are required to be on call has become a hotly contested  issue following the recent incident of a Cape Town based  junior doctor, Dr Ilne Markwat, dying in a motor vehicle accident on her way home after being on call. It’s believed that she fell asleep behind the wheel of the vehicle.

According to SAMA, the new armband campaign is not only aimed at making it easier for people to identify doctors who have worked longer hours, it’s also a visible reminder that more doctors are needed to properly manage the workload.

“The armband campaign is a very important tool for us to assist the public in identifying those professionals who have gone beyond the reasonable hours they should. But, it’s also a reminder that we simply need more doctors in our country. If there are more doctors, those currently working will have the workload shared among others,” said Chairperson of SAMA, Dr Mzukisi Grootboom,

Dr Grootboom added that it’s also a way in which SAMA is actively encouraging authorities to fill vacant posts, hire new people for new posts, and ensure all specialties in hospitals are catered for.

“We cannot continue with a situation where doctors are putting in 10, 15 or even 20 hours extra per shift to the detriment of their patients, and their own health, while vacancies are not filled. If this status quo is not reversed we will, unfortunately, have an increased risk of incidents involving tired doctors. The issue needs urgent attention,” concluded Dr Grootboom.

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