I was amazed to read in Dagens Medicin this week that doctors in Sweden have now accumulated 1783 years of “comptid”. Comptid means compensation time. The extraordinary reality is that here in Sweden the majority of doctors are employed directly by the government, and paid a salary, in contrast to Australia where many doctors are self-employed, paid a fee-for-service. Here in Sweden doctors are paid a monthly wage, and that wage is payment for a forty hour week. The concept of a forty hour week is almost unknown to Australian doctors. Even part time GPs usually talk in terms of the number of days they work, rather than the number of hours. Here in Sweden people in general, including doctors, speak of the percentage they work. It seems to be a percentage of forty hours. So if you work 75% you work 30 hours, and so on. Occasionally I ask part timers how much they work and I get the oddest replies, like 83.5%. Its all to do with when you start and finish, how long a lunch break you take and so on.

A “knock off” time is a vague and fluid idea for Australian doctors. But here it is rigid. If I work till 5pm then any time after 5pm is overtime. Since doctors don’t usually get paid overtime here they get instead “comptid” – compensation time. Depending on when overtime is actually worked, the amount of compensation received varies. Working on a Sunday, for example, might attract double the number of hours in comptid. The whole deal is tracked, needless to say, by computers. When I arrive at work in the morning I punch in my number and my start time is registered. When I go home I key it in again and the computer records how much time I have worked that day. If I go home early I get time subtracted, If I go home late, I get comp time. Every day I see the current statement on the screen of how much time I have owed to me or that I owe to the government. It is a handy system if I need to take a few hours off during the day to go to the dentist or whatever.

The reality is, of course, that most of us work more hours than we are contracted to work, and unlike Australia, this is dutifully recorded by “big brother” – the government, or in the case of us doctors by the Landsting, which is the local government body which is our employer. Someone with the inclination to do so can therefore find out how much comp time is owed to doctors in Sweden in total.

And the number is – 1783 years. In other words, nearly 1800 doctors in this country could stop working for a whole year on full pay! Of course, the whole health system would collapse if they did, and they have no intention of doing so. But its an interesting thought just the same.


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