New flexible working rights announced for NHS staff

SoR welcomes bid to improve work-life balance and retain staff

Published: 29 June 2021 Government & NHS

An agreement on ​​new flexible working rights aimed at giving NHS staff a better work-life balance has been announced by NHS employers and health unions including the SoR.

The deal will make it easier for workers to request flexible working arrangements including a right to do so from ​the first day of their employment in the NHS.

The agreement comes at a time when many health employers and ​their staff are beginning to consider new ways of working. Poor work-life balance is often given as a key reason for employees wanting to leave the health service. The extra demands of the pandemic have left staff exhausted with many re-evaluating their priorities and considering leaving the NHS.

The new flexible measures will apply in England, Scotland and Wales, with similar measures expected to follow in Northern Ireland. New contractual terms will allow staff to: 

  • Request flexible working from the start of their employment (removing the requirement to have six months’ service)
  • Make an unlimited number of applications for flexible working, instead of just one a year 
  • Submit applications without having to justify requests or provide specific reasons 
  • ​Access a process ​where managers must refer ​on requests that cannot be accommodated initially to ensure all possible solutions are explored.

Employers will be expected to promote flexibility options for all jobs at the recruitment stage​ and discuss them regularly with all staff in one-to-one meetings, team discussions and appraisals.

Health employers will also work with unions to develop, agree and offer a broader range of flexible working arrangements. In addition, they will ​monitor and examine what happens to requests ​made across their organisations.

Dean Rogers, SoR’s Director of Industrial Strategy & Member Relations said chronic staff shortages in radiography and a culture of excessive hours in many Trusts was fuelling burnout.

‘In the short to medium term members tell us they’re worried things will get worse rather than better because of political and public pressure to prioritise reducing waiting lists. Flexibility mostly happens to radiographers - being pushed, pulled and bent until they break.

‘So this is an important joint statement of intent and change of direction from the NHS Employers. The DoH and NHS need to back up the words with action and support from day one of the policy coming in.

‘Trust leaders will need huge support and encouragement to take a long term perspective and our members will need support and encouragement to ask for flexibility so momentum builds behind the change.’

The SoR is working on a guide and toolkits for representatives and members to support the change and will be closely monitoring progress, challenging Trusts that fail to make progress.