THE announcement that junior doctors are to be given significant rest periods to recover from intensive night shifts is welcome and overdue.

For Brian Connelly, whose daughter Lauren died aged 23, while driving home after working a string of night shifts, it is the fulfilment of a promise made by the then health secretary three years ago. But a year later, Shona Robison was already warning of problems implementing her pledge. So while England introduced a 46-hour rest break in 2016, Scotland’s junior doctors have continued to wait.

Mr Connelly’s campaign may not have been the deciding factor in bringing about change, but undoubtedly the high profile loss of a young and able doctor helped focus the minds of politicians. Lauren Connelly had worked two blocks of 90 hours in 10 days and a further 12 days in which she spent 107 hours at work, and her father has no doubt fatigue contributed to the crash in which she died.

The outcome of discussion between the Scottish Government, health boards and the British Medical Association (BMA), the new rules on working hours should be supported by all of us. They will make the lives of junior doctors easier, and will ultimately make health care safer for patients. It is self evident that doctors deprived of sleep, often working 12-hour shifts without the benefit of a canteen or rest area, are less likely to offer good care and make the best decisions.

Junior doctors – effectively still in training, although they make up around half of our hospital doctors and many have years of experience – will now only be asked to work a maximum of four consecutive night shifts, and will be guaranteed a minimum 46-hour recovery period after such an intense spell.

The measure is to be introduced by August next year. It must be done and it must be done in a way which is enforceable.

The precedents for tackling this problem are not good. Hopes that extending the EU working time laws to cover doctors in training would help were dashed when health boards were permitted to average out hours worked over six months, in limiting them to a 48-hour week. Other efforts to cut working hours for junior doctors in both England and Scotland, while well-intentioned, have proven unreliable in the reality of an NHS pressed for staff and resources.

It must be clear who is responsible for the new guidelines and what sanction will be applied to health boards which break them.

If this turns out to be another false dawn it will be a betrayal of Mr Connelly, and the memory of Lauren, not to mention, ultimately, a betrayal of the interests of patients.