Universities have been warned to limit the working hours of clinical academics.
The warning came at this week's meeting of the British Medical Association's medical academic staff committee.
The working time directive, introduced last October, restricts the working hours of National Health Service staff. However, academics are thought to be exempt because they determine their own working patterns.
Colin Smith, of the University of Southampton, who chairs the committee, said:
"Universities have been advised by the Universities and Colleges Employment Association that clinical staff are not affected (by the working time directive) since they direct their own work patterns. I shall remember that next time I am in clinic or doing an endoscopy list or an emergency call.
"Universities have got to appreciate this is a health and safety issue. Unfortunately, it may need a test case with the Health and Safety Executive before they wake up." Non-clinical academics are not protected by the working time directive and "the pay is such that it is a wonder that there are any left", Dr Smith added.
He also identified a recruitment crisis in academic medicine: "It has become clear that there is a great crisis in recruitment and retention of clinical academics, particularly in surgery. In the 23 medical schools, five chairs of general surgery are vacant and seven in ear, nose and throat, and orthopaedics."
Unless there is a radical change to the arrangements for terms and conditions of service, the failure to recruit to surgical disciplines will continue, Dr Smith said.
Burdensome working conditions experienced by clinical academics due to excessive quality assessment came under fire too.
"Not only do we have two employment masters (the National Health Service and the university), we have a triple whammy with quality assurance, clinical governance and quality assurance for teaching and for research. People are wondering whether it is worthwhile to be a clinical academic when you could do similar work in the NHS for a better income and more rewarding working conditions," Dr Smith said.
The first of 1,000 extra places for medical students created from next year will be allocated by the Higher Education Funding Council for England next week.