COVID-19: managing junior doctor rota changes in Northern Ireland

Guidance on new rotas for junior doctors and annual leave, rest periods, pay, hours and working additional hours during coronavirus.

Location: Northern Ireland
Audience: Junior doctors
Updated: Monday 7 September 2020
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Update - June 2020

After consultation with BMA’s Northern Ireland Junior doctors committee and HSC Trusts, the Department of Health has recently agreed new guidance for doctors in training in Northern Ireland regarding their annual leave entitlement as current COVID rotas are gradually being stood down.

  • Trusts will now work to facilitate at least half of junior doctors’ outstanding leave before the next changeover date in August 2020.
  • Untaken annual leave for the period Feb-July 2020 can be carried over for the next two years and honoured by future rotations.
  • Where it is not reasonably practicable to do this, requests for payment for a proportion of the untaken leave at the end of any rotation up until August 2022 can be considered on a case by case basis by the Director of Medical Education and Medical HR.

Download the full guidance document


About the changes

COVID-19 presents the health service and all its staff with unique and unprecedented challenges.

It has become clear that this is likely to bring significant disruption to your normal working patterns, your working conditions, your teams, your role and the locations in which you work.

Your employer will seek to change your working arrangements. BMA NI sets out some key principles below:

  • employers and rota coordinators should involve junior doctors in any change to rotas
  • flexibility and good communication by both doctors and employers is key
  • any changed rota will be temporary and must be kept under review
  • keep a written record of what is agreed as it may be required at a later time – even if this is in the form of email correspondence
  • you cannot be required to work outside of your competency level.


Ensuring your health and wellbeing

Any revised rota must still provide you with sufficient rest and breaks to ensure both patient safety and your own health and wellbeing.

Rotas should, where at all possible, incorporate a degree of redundancy to ensure unexpected absences can be covered.

Annual leave requests should be honoured as far as reasonably possible and factored into any changes to avoid burnout, excess fatigue and ill-health.

If you have difficulty in working the new temporary rota due to caring responsibilities, disability etc, discuss this with your employer. If you encounter any difficulty, contact us.


Hour limits

Current rules regarding working hours still apply to ensure your safety.

You are at liberty to opt out of the EWTR (European Working Time Regulations) maximum hours limit if you wish - you cannot be forced to do this.

The EWTR maximum average hours limit is 48 hours over a 26 week reference period; by opting out you can work up to an average 56 hours per week. You can opt back in at any time.

EWTR also require you to have:

  • a 20-minute break rest after six hours work
  • a minimum 11 hours rest between each shift
  • either 24 hours continuous rest in seven days or 48 hours continuous rest in 14 days.

There is no opt-out from the rest requirement.


Rota banding

The banding should reflect the new working arrangement. Although sometimes employers will pay for additional hours separately via locum payments.

In the unlikely event that your temporary rota is banded lower than your current rota you should continue to receive the banding supplement that previously applied.

To check the banding for the new working pattern, go to the BMA banding calculator


Less than full-time trainees

LTFTs may voluntarily agree to work more hours for appropriate payment and this must not prejudice any application you make to work less than full time in the future.

Need help? For 24/7 emergency COVID advice please call us. For all other non-emergency enquiries normal opening times apply.
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