Annual leave allowances
Under the BMA’s salaried GP model contract, full time practitioners are entitled to 30 days annual leave each year.
For less-than full time workers, the 30 days annual leave entitlement is on a pro-rata basis.
The model contract also states that a full-time salaried GP is entitled to public and bank holidays as paid time off, or a day off in lieu if the salaried GP is required to work on these days.
If you are not employing GPs using the BMA salaried GP model contract, you should be offering terms which are as favourable.
There is value in dealing with popular weeks separately from the rest of the year.
The process to achieve mutually acceptable solutions often involves reciprocal swaps between popular weeks. The terms agreed should be no less favourable to the salaried GP than the provisions within the model contract.
Holiday requests, particularly during the busy periods, should be handled objectively with fair treatment of all GPs.
All rules should be open to exceptions for annual leave to ensure flexibility, where needed. An example of this would be for important life events, including weddings. Or, for employees with more complicated circumstances, such as visiting family abroad or other instances where they may prefer to take a longer break more infrequently.
Dealing with multiple popular weeks
Where several popular weeks are under discussion, it is good practice to give all staff a deadline by which to submit their requests and give a clear date by which decisions will be made.
There should be a clear process which will be used to fairly decide how to deal with clashes, that allows all staff to have input and ensures a fair process.
Sometimes the best resolution is achieved by getting all interested parties in one discussion and encouraging GPs to be creative and collaborative in coming to an agreement.
Rules to use for popular weeks
Some practices set out a few ground rules which can help set realistic expectations before leave requests are made. This can include:
- No more than four weeks allocated to any one GP in school holidays.
- No more than one week allocated to any one GP at Christmas or Easter.
- No more than two weeks allocated to any one GP in the summer school holiday.
After the highest demand weeks are allocated, the practice may use separate or limited rules in dealing with later leave requests, which can be granted on a first come first served basis if possible.
Where the allocation of leave is becoming complicated, or disputes are arising, you can contact the BMA's employer advisory service. If you are contacting the BMA on behalf of another member, please have their membership number to hand.
Staff are encouraged to be mindful of the difficulties faced by primary care and how this may impact their employer’s ability to honour every leave request made.
Using a leave rota system
In some practices with stable teams, the whole team may agree a rota system where first choice is given to different members in different years.
These rules should have buy-in from all staff and should have a lead person to ensure the process is fair and transparent.
This should be clear to all members of staff to ensure a fair process and to assist in negotiations between staff and their employer. Employers should avoid applying rules retrospectively.
Any leave system should accommodate the maximum number of first choice requests as possible. This can be facilitated by:
- Commencing leave planning well ahead of time. Some practices organise leave 9-12 months ahead for popular weeks.
- Inviting doctors to place their requested dates in order of preference, including information of special occasions such as weddings or anniversaries.
- Inviting doctors to put forward options. For example, 'for Easter I would like to request one of the two weeks, but I don’t mind which'.
- Encouraging employees to work flexitime to cover other people's leave or to take extra leave in exchange for flexibility when taking their leave. For example, agreeing to provide all their worked hours for the Christmas period in one week to allow time off to travel in the other week.
- Exploring more flexibility in larger workforces.
- Using flexible working, for example annualised hours, so that a doctor can increase their annual leave allocation or weeks away from work in exchange for working additional hours in certain weeks.
Speed of decision making and 'first come first served'
As a rule, it is important that wherever possible, decisions about leave requests are made promptly. Many GPs have portfolio careers and may need to negotiate leave with more than one employer.
Once the more popular weeks have been approved, it can be useful to have a shared holiday calendar where GPs can view what is still 'available' to help inform their choice.
In many cases, GPs will be able to choose dates which fit in with existing leave or directly discuss casual swaps with the other GP without adding to the burden of those managing the process.
If Monday is a working day for the GP, they will have at least four Mondays off due to bank holidays. It is good practice to allocate pro-rata bank holidays to all staff according to their hours regardless of the days on which they work.
This means that if their normal working days do not include Mondays, they may gain a few days or part-days of annual leave in lieu of those bank holidays.
If they work Mondays but work less-than full time, their pro-rata bank holiday entitlement is likely to be less than the actual number of Mondays they will have off, resulting in a potential deduction from their annual leave.
In these situations, it is worth considering either:
- working a different day of the week if that suits both the GP and the practice
- agreeing to work a different day of the week on bank holiday weeks (which are usually busier and more likely to have people on leave anyway) to avoid having annual leave deducted.
This may impact on childcare and will require advance planning which is why it is key to have these conversations at an early stage.
Maximum number of people on leave at one time
Some practices find it helpful to set a maximum amount of people who may be on leave at any one time.
As many salaried GPs work less-than full time, this can be difficult to determine. It may be better to set a minimum number of sessions of cover in a week and a minimum per day.
Responsibility for continuity of service provision lies with the contract holder and not employed staff. In exceptional circumstances, it could be requested that employed staff return to work but they cannot be compelled to do so.
There also needs to be fair and transparent rules about when locum cover is organised to allow leave.
Special provisions at Christmas
Practices are encouraged to work with their GPs to ensure a fair and transparent process. Operational pressures experienced by practices, particularly around the festive season, can make it difficult for all leave requests made by staff to be accommodated and staff are encouraged to be understanding of this.
Some practices have found it useful to implement the following.
Separate Christmas rotas
The normal rota is suspended so no one is advantaged by the dates where the bank holidays fall.
Everyone has to work a set (but reduced % of their normal) number of sessions without needing to deduct this from annual leave, providing they are prepared to work a different day of the week to enable everyone to take a few consecutive days off. This will require planning to ensure the process each year is bespoke and fair.
Christmas leave is on a rota
The rota is over two or three years. This only works where there is low turnover of staff at the practice.
Negotiation between other important dates
Christmas holiday leave may be part of a negotiation process between staff when considering other important holidays and religious festivals of the year.
Employers should seek specific advice from the BMA about leave requests connected to faith or religious holidays due to the potential risk of discrimination.