10 top job planning tips for consultants during Covid-19

by Erica Stamp

How to handle increasingly stressful work patterns

Location: Wales
Published: Friday 2 October 2020
Busy hospital with blurred figures moving through a reception area

Consultants have taken a leading role in tackling the Covid-19 crisis, with many changing their working hours at very short notice to take on extra clinical duties over and above their job plans, to support the efforts in battling the pandemic.  

Many consultants temporarily moved from the more traditional Monday to Friday job plan, to an emergency shift system, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This change in working pattern should have resulted in being paid in accordance with the nationally agreed enhanced rates for Wales.

This agreement was time limited to deal with the emergency nature of the first peak and consultants should now have returned to their normal job plans, including SPAs and external duties, unless an extension has been agreed by your LNC.

However, we are now hearing from you that as Covid cases increase and the focus on elective work ramps up, you are again under pressure from your employer to change your working patterns – perhaps on a longer-term basis.

Remember – there is no obligation for consultants to work additional and/or extra-contractual hours unless you specifically choose to, and these should be properly remunerated with additional payment for these hours, with the rates confirmed in writing in advance.

With all the uncertainty, it has never been more important to understand the job planning process, so that you are prepared for any discussions which may now start.

We’ve come up with 10 top tips for consultants to follow when job planning during these uncertain times:

1) Prepare! Keep a diary of all your activity, including everything you do (including emails, calls and management meetings) - the longer the period, the better. Your activity may change on a weekly basis now, so it’s important to keep accurate diary evidence. BMA’s Dr Diary app will help you track this

2) If, for the time being, you are prepared to agree to a working pattern which involves routine OOHs work, we would strongly suggest that before agreeing to the job plan, you make it clear in writing that your agreement is conditional on the following things: A) A mutual understanding that you have the right to return to your usual pattern of work, in line with Paragraph 2.4 of the Amendment, to the National Consultant Contract in Wales upon requesting a job planning review; B) Agreement over acceptable rates of pay or sessional reductions where routine work is done OOHs. See national Covid rates as an example or check with your LNC for any locally agreed rates; and C) Agreement over acceptable rates of pay or sessional reductions where routine work is done OOHs. See Covid rates as an example

3) If, after agreeing your new job plan, you feel that the hours stated in your revised job plan are not accurate, you should immediately request an interim job plan review. This is your contractual right under Paragraph 1.22 of the Amendment. If your employer seeks to unilaterally change your job plan, for example by issuing a new rota without any consultation, you should object and immediately request a job plan review

4) Additional sessions can be ended by either yourself or your employer. Three months’ notice that additional sessions are ceasing should be given by either party

5) There should be agreement over which sessions are going to cease, so it is clear what activity will end

6) Remember, there is NO payment of part sessions or rounding up. Only whole sessions will be paid, unless agreed otherwise. This is where your diary can really help

7) Watch out for `salami slicing’ of sessions i.e. your clinic of four hours being treated as 3.75 hours. A reduction of 15 minutes to one session could result in the loss of payment of a whole session

8) Check the activity data your employer holds on you. If necessary, keep your own - especially now, where activity such as operating may be more ad hoc. You may agree to pick up alternative duties for example, where operating has been cancelled. Again, this should be agreed through job planning with an express agreement that this is on a temporary basis only with a right to revert back to your previous job plan

9) Ensure you have evidence to verify your SPAs, additional responsibilities and external duties. Some SPA activity ceased during the spring but should now be reinstated and recognised appropriately

10) If you are unhappy with your job plan, appeal. The first step is to confirm in writing to your clinical manager that you do not agree to the proposed job plan and would like to move to the first stage of the appeal process. This is detailed in paragraph 1.34- 1.39 of the Amendment. The first step is an initial discussion with the Medical Director.

Consultants have shown extraordinary levels of commitment throughout this pandemic. It is vital that this goodwill is not exploited, that adequate rest is built into working patterns, and that no doctor is forced to undertake extra-contractual work or agree to unsafe working patterns. The BMA will provide support and advice to any members who are otherwise pressured to work outside of their contracted hours.

If you’re a BMA member and you’d like any further advice or guidance on job planning, you can call our First Point of Contact Team on 0300 123 1233. You can find more info, here.

Erica Stamp is head of member relations for BMA Cymru