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Study, professional and special leave

Things for consultants to consider when making an application for study, professional and special leave.

If after reading this guidance you need further support, please contact us on 0300 123 1233 or email [email protected]


Study or professional leave

Professional or study leave is granted for consultants for postgraduate purposes  approved by the employing authority. It covers study (usually but not exclusively or necessarily on a course), research, teaching, examining or taking examinations, visiting clinics and attending professional conferences. 

For all consultants, there is a contractual entitlement of 30 days study and professional leave with pay and expenses within each three-year period. Some employers will interpret this as 10 days per year. Check local agreements as appropriate. 

In Scotland professional all study leave for a consultant will normally be granted to the maximum extent consistent with maintaining essential services up to 30 days (including off duty days falling within the period of leave) in any three years for leave within the European Union. Any such leave will be granted with full pay. Where the leave is taken within the United Kingdom it will be granted with full reimbursement of associated expenses. When leave is taken elsewhere within the European Union, it will be granted with reimbursement of associated expenses at a level agreed between the consultant and the employer, which will normally be comparable with the level of expenses available or study leave within the UK. Most NHS boards in Scotland have local agreements which include the EEA as opposed to the European Union.

An employer may at its discretion grant professional of study leave in the EU in addition to the 30 days in any three years with or without pay and expenses or any proportion thereof. An employer may grant professional or study leave outside the European Union (EEA) with or without pay and expenses or with any proportion thereof.

Where leave with pay is granted the consultant must not undertake any remunerative work without the special permission of the employer.

Previously, entitlements to study and professional leave applied to UK-based courses, seminars, etc., but this has now been extended to cover any study leave within the European Union. Applications for study or professional leave outside the EU will normally be judged on their own merits and there is no specific entitlement to paid time off or expenses for such requests.

It remains unclear what impact the UK leaving the European Union will have on undertaking study leave in EU countries. For the time being, we would expect the current arrangements to continue.


Factors to be taken into account when considering applying for study leave

  • Ensure the likely expenses to be incurred are estimated as accurately as possible and check the provisions of the local policy in advance of submitting an application

  • Once a study leave application is accepted then employers must pay all reasonable expenses associated with that period of leave

  • Many employers will have 'capped' study leave budgets, but in most cases the agreed procedure will allow for payment of all expenses, so local policies should be checked  where partial funding of course and/or restrictions on expenses are being proposed for approved study leave  It is worth noting, however, that the Department of Health & Social Care (England) has said that it is unreasonable for employers to pre-determine the level of expenses which they are prepared to approve in connection with study leave applications

  • The right to take study leave does not depend on the employer's financial position – it is a contractual right. Employers should accept the natural consequences of granting study leave and pay all reasonable expenses associated with a period of approved study leave

  • Employers should not turn down study leave applications on non-educational, including financial, grounds

  • Study leave should not be used for inappropriate purposes, for example attending advisory appointments committees (this is an external duty) 

  • Where study leave claims are turned down or expenses not paid, employees can pursue the issue of non-payment of expenses as a grievance or through the courts as a civil claim. 

Special leave

The employment rights act 1996 provides the right to time off for a variety of different reasons for example public and civic duties, ante - natal care and care of dependents. In Scotland the 2015 PIN policy ‘Supporting the Work-Life Balance’, details the provisions every NHS board is required to implement locally with regard to special leave and consultants should refer to the locally agreed special leave policy. This will detail the provisions for special leave and the extent to which it is paid or unpaid. 

Special leave may be granted for any reason, but it is always at the discretion of the employer. For those on national terms and conditions of service, the provisions of the GWC handbook (or its successor) will apply and these specify that:

  • Special leave with pay may be granted for compassionate purposes, absence from duty following contact with a notifiable disease, caring for a dependent relative, adoption and leave for magisterial duties (for a period not exceeding 18 days in any 12 months) 

  • Special leave without pay may be granted, for example, to apply for posts outside the NHS or to pursue parliamentary candidature

  • Special leave is a statutory entitlement and is used in exceptional circumstances. It may be granted under certain circumstances only and whether this will be with or without pay will be a matter for negotiation with the employer.