COVID-19: annual leave and study leave

An overview of taking annual leave or study leave during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how this applies to the four nations.

Location: UK
Audience: Junior doctors
Updated: Monday 7 September 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic response period, you may find it more difficult to take annual leave due to increased pressure on your team and changes to your working patterns.

In the recovery from this period, you may find yourself busy catching up with the backlog of work that has not been possible whilst your workplace has dealt with treating COVID-19 patients.

It is vital that you try to take annual leave where possible, even when there is no opportunity to travel far or go on holiday.

Annual leave for the purpose of rest and relaxation is essential to your wellbeing and to working safely. The BMA expects all employers to respect existing annual leave bookings and to grant requests for annual leave if at all possible.

Leave allowance building up

You may have been unable to take leave due to COVID-19, as a result your leave allowance has built up.

In recognition of this issue, the BMA has worked with governments in all four nations of the UK to agree principles on the carry-over of annual leave between leave years and between employers, when you change employer due to training requirements.

You may find in the coming period that you need to take more study leave, or require more study budget, than you might normally in order to catch up with training requirements.

In some nations, we have also agreed principles surrounding increased access to study leave and carry-over of study budget.


In England

Following discussions with the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England / Improvement, and NHS Employers, the BMA has agreed joint guidance regarding management of untaken annual leave due to COVID-19.

The objective of this guidance is to ensure that no trainee loses any of their annual leave entitlement. To avoid this occurring, employers should be taking the following steps:

  • where reasonable and practicable, the current employer should make every effort to ensure that you have taken all your annual leave entitlement prior to finishing your existing placement.
  • where reaching agreement on planning annual leave is not possible some annual leave may be allocated by your employer but this should be done with your agreement.
  • where carry over of leave is requested, you should be able to carry over up to five days of leave to your next placement. However, if you are rotating to a different employer, this will require the agreement of the new employer. The carry over of this leave should be done by your new employer using NHS Employers' form.
  • where the carry over of leave is not possible, or you do not request to carry over your untaken leave, then you should receive payment in lieu for all outstanding untaken annual leave at the end of your current placement.

For more information on how your untaken leave should be managed, including a template form and process guide please see NHS Employers' guidance.

In Northern Ireland

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.

This new guidance is about 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 from February to 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.

See full guidance from Public Health Agency. 


In Scotland

Scottish Government confirmed in DL 2020/9 the arrangements for carrying forward annual leave from the leave year 2019/20. This was further clarified in a joint statement between BMA Scotland, NHS Scotland employers and Scottish Government.

If a junior doctor has been unable to take their full 2019/20 annual leave entitlement due to service demands, this can be carried forward into the individual’s next leave year.

Any leave carried forward can then either be taken as annual leave or payment can be requested for the full amount of carried forward leave.

Requesting payment option

There is also an option to either request payment for some of the days and take the remainder as annual leave. Where payment is chosen, the rate that will apply will be the salary, including banding, at the time the leave was accrued.

Board employers would prefer junior doctors with outstanding leave at the end of their current rotation to consider taking the payment option.

However, the option of taking the leave or payment in lieu of the leave will be available to up until the end of the 2021/22 leave year, regardless of any change of board employer, provided the trainee remains in continuous employment within NHS Scotland.

Leaving employment

For those leaving employment with NHS Scotland before the end of the 2021/22 leave year, any remaining 2019/20 leave still outstanding will be paid automatically on termination.

The carry forward arrangements do not apply to Interim Foundation doctors (FiY1s) as DL 2020/9 only covers staff unable to take their 2019/20 annual leave and the FiY1 doctors did not commence employment until April 2020.


In Wales

BMA Cymru Wales have agreed a joint statement with NHS Wales Employers, HEIW and Welsh Government on guidelines for the carry-over of annual leave between leave years and between NHS Wales Employers. This should be followed by your health board or trust.

The principles of the agreement are:

  • the first priority is that you should be able to take leave. You must be proactive in booking leave and your health board must allow you to take leave where you wish to as far as possible
  • when you reach the end of your leave year you may carry over as many days of annual leave as you like to the next leave year. If you have more than five days of leave remaining then you must carry over at least five; however, you may instead choose to take a payment in lieu of any leave above five days
  • if you are changing NHS Wales employer (for example, as a result of a training rotation) then you may carry over or take payment for your remaining leave as outlined above. The preferred position is that you take payment for all days outstanding above five days; however, you have a legal right to take payment for all days outstanding, including the first five, should you wish, or in line with the agreement you may transfer all days of remaining leave to your new employer
  • These arrangements are in place for leave accrued during the 2019/20 and 2020/21 leave years and are valid up until the end of the 2021/22 leave year
  • if you choose to take payment in lieu of some or all of your leave, you will be paid at a daily rate calculated from your most recent substantive rota
  • You may carry over all unused personal study budget from your 2019/20 allocation to your 2020/21 allocation
  • employers and HEIW have committed to taking a flexible approach to granting study leave above the normal 30 days for the next year where you can demonstrate a need to take extra study leave.

If you are in a specialty or group that is being moved over to the SLE (single lead employer) for hospital-based trainees then this will count as changing NHS Wales employer and the relevant section of the agreement will apply.

If you are a GP trainee already employed by the SLE then you will not be changing employer and the section on remaining with the same NHS Wales employer applies.

It may be a good idea to keep a record of any requests for annual leave that have been turned down due to system pressures during COVID-19.

When it comes to requesting the carry-over of leave between leave years, if you encounter problems making use of the provisions of this agreement then contact the BMA for assistance.

Real life examples

Example one

You are an anaesthetic trainee in Ysbyty Gwynedd in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, you have been unable to take your leave before your leave year ends in August. Despite your best efforts to take leave, you have 8 days outstanding.

Your next rotation is in Wrexham Maelor Hospital, which is also in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.

You must carry over five days of outstanding annual leave to the new rotation and have it added to your allocation for that rotation.

For the remaining three days, you may choose to carry these over too, or take payment in lieu for all three, or any mixture in between.

Example two

You are a higher surgical trainee at Morriston Hospital in Swansea Bay University Health Board.

Due to the backlog of work your team has to deal with following the pandemic response, you have been unable to take all your leave before you next training rotation in August. You have 10 days outstanding.

Your next rotation is in University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff and Vale University Health Board. As this is a different health board, you will be changing employer.

As you will be terminating your employment contract with one employer and signing a new one with another, you have the right to request all 10 days of leave as payment in lieu.

However, you decide that you’d rather carry over some days in order to have some more opportunities to relax and recover after the busy period. You decide that you will carry forward five days and take payment for the remaining five.