Consultants leave

Information for consultants on leave entitlements, possible methods for calculating leave, cover for leave, and details about working on public holidays.

Location: UK
Audience: Consultants
Updated: Tuesday 25 June 2024
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Your annual leave entitlement

All consultants in the UK engaged on the national terms and conditions are entitled to a standard of 6 weeks of annual leave. There are additions to this depending on which UK nation you are based.


If you are on the 2003 contract for England, and have been a consultant for 7 or more years, you are entitled to an additional 2 days.

In England there are an additional 8 days of public holiday plus 2 ‘statutory days’ (which most employers convert into between two and four days of annual leave).

Northern Ireland

If you are on the 2004 contract for Northern Ireland, and have been a consultant for seven or more years, you are entitled to an additional 2 days.

In Northern Ireland consultants are entitled to 10 public holidays and 2 'statutory days' which have been converted to annual leave by local agreement.


Consultants in Wales are entitled to 6 weeks and 4 days annual leave per year.

In Wales there are an additional 8 days of public holiday. Consultants who are required to be on call on a public holiday will be granted time off in lieu.

In some cases, employers may have a standard leave year, for example commencing on 1 April for all employees, and this should be clearly specified in the contract of employment for the post. Otherwise, each leave year will commence at their incremental date or its anniversary for those at the top of the scale.


Until recently consultants were entitled to 10 public holidays. In 2021 the BMA reached agreement with the Scottish Government and NHS Employers to apply the substitution of two public holidays with three additional annual leave days on a permanent basis for all secondary care doctors.

Read: DL annual leave and public holiday entitlements

We are aware that some consultants may have their leave expressed in days rather than weeks in their contract; anyone in such a circumstance should take care to ensure that the number of days they have had allocated is correct.


Annual leave and variations in working patterns

Consultants generally do not work on a 0900-1700 Monday to Friday basis.

The variation in working patterns means that it is difficult to define a working 'week', and this may be more or less than five days.

Equally, many consultants may work a number of Programmed Activities (PAs) or sessions over a set cycle, which, although an average can be determined, makes it difficult to identify a standard week.

Complications may arise when working out how consultants who work anything other than a five-day week should take their annual leave.

For example, if a full-time consultant delivers their contractual commitment in three days of work, they would only have to take three days of leave to have a full week off.

However, a consultant in these circumstances could spend over 10 weeks away from the hospital if they were allocated 32 days leave per year, compared to their colleagues who spread their commitments over five days a week and would therefore need to take five days of leave to have a full week off.

No consultant should receive disproportionately more annual leave by virtue of working a compressed week. A simple way of addressing this is set out in Option 2 below.

All consultants on a full-time contract who have standard conditions of service have the same contractual entitlement to leave.

​Consultants may be able to agree a local solution in order to ensure that annual leave is being taken equitably.

See below for an outline of a variety of methods for calculating leave in order to avoid any potential inequity in those circumstances where differing work patterns make leave calculations difficult.

Any arrangement should be agreed through the LNC.


Part-time consultants

Annual leave for part-time consultants, including public holiday allocation, should be calculated on a pro-rata basis – for example, if a consultant works two thirds of a full-time commitment then their leave annual allowance should also be pro-rata.

There should be no advantage or disadvantage in terms of leave as a result of adopting different working patterns.


Calculating leave

Possible methods for calculating leave to avoid inequity resulting from differing work patterns are given below.

These examples are tailored to the contracts in England and Northern Ireland but highlight that there are alternative ways of thinking about your annual leave entitlement.

Scottish Consultants Committee position is that leave is calculated in weeks as in the TCS.

Option 1

Calculate leave based upon the number of PAs Programmed Activities (PAs) or sessions in the job plan. Recognising that contracts are based around PAs/sessions, one way to do so would be to annualise the job plan and to calculate leave on a PA/session basis rather than by days or weeks.

Taking the example of PAs, 6 weeks of annual leave on a 10 PA per week contract = 60 PAs of annual leave, plus 20 PAs of leave for public holidays (10 days public holiday x 2PAs a day).

Each individual’s annual leave allowance would need to be calculated based on the number of PAs they work (either each week or over a specific cycle).

For example:

Consultant A works 10 PAs between Monday – Friday and has a contractual annual leave allowance of six weeks. There is no on-call associated with the post.

Consultant B works 9.5 PAs from Monday-Thursday each week and an average of 0.5 PAs per week for working 1/8 weekends and has a contractual annual leave allowance of six weeks. There is no on-call associated with the post.

Consultant C works a four-week cycle of 40 PAs which includes eight PAs from Tuesday to Friday each week, an average of one PA per week for weekend working and an average of one PA per week for unpredictable on-call (which might be during the week or at the weekend) and has a contractual annual leave allowance of six weeks.

All consultants wish to take leave and be absent from the hospital for one week.

Consultant A would need to use 10 PAs of annual leave.

Consultant B would need to calculate how many PAs he/she was due to work on the specific week which he/she wished to book as leave. For example, if this was a week without weekend working, this would require 9.5 PAs of leave. If this was the week in the eight-week cycle in which he/she was working over the weekend, then 13.5 PAs of leave would be required to be absent from the hospital from Monday – Sunday inclusive.

Consultant C would need to calculate the actual number of PAs he/she would work on the specific week on which leave was required – eg exactly when his/her on call commitment that week would take place and what his/her weekend working commitment would be (plus the eight PAs usually worked from Tuesday-Friday). The exact figure would then need to be deducted from his/her annual leave allowance.

Option 2

Adjust the total number of days of annual to reflect the length of the working week. If a consultant works 10 PAs/sessions a week over Tuesday-Friday with no on-call or weekend working, then his/her annual leave allowance could be calculated accordingly – eg 4 days x 6 weeks = 24 days per year. The consultant would then need to use four days of annual leave to be absent from the hospital for one week, assuming it did not coincide with a weekend of work.

This method is less suitable when more complicated working patterns are involved.

Other calculation methods may also be employed: each method should ensure that leave for both full time and part time consultants is fair and equitable.

​Please note that any calculation must be based on an individual’s specific work commitment.


Cover for leave

In Scotland prospective cover for annual leave and study leave is incorporated into the rota for on-call. Consultants are not expected to cover annual and study leave in the course of the normal working week.

Cover arrangements for other leave (sick leave, maternity leave etc) are normally agreed via the Local Negotiating Committee (LNC) and consultants should refer to the local policies.

Agreement should be reached with the employer in advance through the job planning process about the circumstances in which consultants will provide cover for colleagues on leave. Any extra PAs and state sessions resulting from cover will be by agreement between the consultant and employer.

Where cover by consultant colleagues is not available, the employer, not the consultant, should be responsible for the engagement of a locum, or other arrangement.

With six weeks annual leave, on average two weeks study leave and public holidays, consultants are likely to be covering nearly 10 weeks of each colleague’s duties.

This may mean a consultant’s average out-of-hours workload is up to 24 per cent greater in the week and 18 per cent greater at weekends than that measured when nobody is on leave.

In reality, consultants can do 52 weeks of on-call work in 42 weeks at the hospital.

A consultant is under no obligation to provide prospective cover other than annual and study leave and public holidays since the extent of such a commitment cannot be predicted.

Cover for other types of leave is an area where many LNCs have reached local agreements with employers.


Working on public holidays

The Definitions set out in the preface to the Terms and Conditions of Service (TCS) for England and Northern Ireland state that work on a public holiday counts as work in Premium time. The same is confirmed in 4.8.1 of the Scottish TCS.

Non-emergency work can only be scheduled during premium time, including public holidays, where this has been agreed between the employer and consultant (Schedule 3, paragraph 6 of the TCS for England, and 3.2.4 of the TCS for Scotland). Therefore, public holiday working should only be scheduled by mutual agreement.

What a consultant might be entitled to if they are not scheduled to work on a public holiday

This will depend on the contracted hours in the substantive contract of employment. If a consultant is full-time then the view from the central legal office in Scotland is that they are entitled to 8 days of public holidays. if the substantive hours are less than full-time then the public holiday entitlement would be pro-rata to the contracted hours.

Increasing numbers of full-time consultants work different patterns which sometimes mean that they are not scheduled to work on a public holiday and want to know whether they are entitled to take a day off given that they have missed a public holiday. Similarly, part time consultants are entitled to the same leave, pro rata, as full timers but might also find that they aren’t scheduled to work on a public holiday.

It can be difficult to work out how they should be compensated for missing public holidays. It would not be fair for the full timer for different hours simply to take a day off in lieu because they may take a day off when they are scheduled to work three or more PAs/sessions and would, therefore, be taking more leave than a full time consultant who took leave on a public holiday when he/she was scheduled to carry out two PAs/sessions.

A fair way of dealing with this on a PA/session basis is outlined in the advice above.


Carry over of annual leave entitlement

For consultants carrying over annual leave is subject to the General Whitley Council Conditions of Service. These conditions include a provision which states that ‘Subject to the exigencies of the service up to 5 days annual leave may be carried forward on application and taken in the ensuing leave year.’ This applies to both full and part-time consultants and is not pro-rata for part-time consultants.

In Wales, with approval of the employer, consultants with substantive contracts may transfer up to 5 days of leave not taken into the next leave year.​