Context  Attempts to reduce doctors’ working hours and streamline postgraduate medical training may mean junior doctors’ out-of-hours experience is reduced. It is also proposed that, in the UK, compulsory clinical (Foundation Programme) competencies are to be accomplished in 1 year rather than 2 years as they are at present. This observational study was performed to examine the scope of opportunity available to junior doctors to achieve such competencies while working on a ‘Hospital at Night’ (H@N) team.

Methods  A database of electronic requests made to the H@N team was used to tabulate the number and type of tasks requested and to define differences between specialties, using local hospital admissions rates to contextualise the data. These requests were then compared with a list of compulsory clinical competencies to assess the scope of opportunity available to trainees to achieve these competencies when working on the H@N team.

Results  A total of 8268 referrals were made to our H@N team between 1 October 2007 and 31 January 2008 using the electronic Hospital Information System® (HIS®). The predefined, online HIS® request list included eight of the 20 tasks that represent compulsory competencies and showed that on average there were 247 opportunities per week of night shifts to perform them. Medical wards generated more requests than surgical wards (4767 versus 3170) and afforded greater opportunity to attain compulsory competencies (139 opportunities/week versus 96 opportunities/week; extra requests could not be attributed to either medical or surgical wards as original request did not include ward number).

Conclusions  The H@N initiative provides adequate opportunities for junior doctors to attain important clinical (Foundation) competencies. There appears to be sufficient opportunity to achieve these competencies within 1 year rather than the 2 years currently allowed in the UK Foundation Programme.