Call to end leave uncertainty

by Tim Tonkin

Late rotas lowering doctors' morale in the workplace and disrupting vacation plans

Location: UK
Published: Monday 24 June 2024

‘A few weeks ago, I received a message that read “is anyone free to swap a shift so I can attend my own wedding?”

‘How is it that in 2024, almost 200 years after the BMA was established, we’re having to plead for annual leave for our own weddings?’

Speaking at the BMA annual representative meeting in Belfast, as part of a motion condemning the disruption and uncertainty wreaked by the late issuing of rotas and cancellation of annual leave, Leicestershire foundation year 1 Mahmoud Shehab illustrated just how cruel and ludicrous the current arrangements can be.

Amid the pressures of an understaffed and under resourced health service experiencing record patient demand, the experience of being asked to cover a shift not included in a work plan, or being told at the last minute that a long pre-planned day off can’t happen, is one that many medical professions can sadly relate to.

The impact of this culture of chaos and uncertainty on staff wellbeing was grimly illustrated in a 2022 association survey of junior doctors, which found that 60 per cent of those responding describing their morale as low or very low, with 78 per cent feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress.


End impunity

Describing his motion as a ‘pivotal’ call to action in ‘re-establishing better standards of treatment and overall morale’ for doctors, Dr Shehab said it was vital that employers no longer felt they could act with impunity with regards to rotas and staff leave.

‘The BMA currently states that rotas have to be released six weeks prior to start. But this is rarely the case. As an LNC when I'm informed about this, I just have to sit there, smile, and write a firmly worded email back to HR,’ Dr Shehab told the ARM.

‘Employers know there are no repercussions. There are no consequences or penalties for releasing [rotas] late. It is disparaging that I along with other LNC reps cannot do anything more on this matter.

‘This motion empowers BMA local representatives to fight your corner with tangible penalties, hold your employees accountable and give you the respect you deserve. This motion shifts the consequences of poor administration back on to the employers rather than the current state of affairs where doctors bear the bulk of repercussions of poor administration.’

SCOTT: Urged caution over proposals SCOTT: Urged caution over proposals

The strands of the motion included a call for employers to be ‘fined’ a day’s pay or one day of annual leave, depending on the discretion of the doctor affected, for every day beyond a reasonable rota issuance deadline.

It further insisted that doctors not be compelled to cover shifts where they already had agreed time off, and that all requests for annual leave be presumed granted if no response had been received within five days. 

While backing the majority of the calls set out in the motion, East of England anaesthetics trainee Ciaran Scott urged caution over proposals that would allow employers to cancel leave with fewer than 48 hours’ notice in emergency situations.

Calling successfully for this part of the motion to be taken as a reference, Dr Scott warned that doctors’ leave should never be cancelled ‘unless all other avenues have been sought’ adding that he was concerned that employers would inevitably seek to exploit the 48-hour window.