In the UK, there are different contracts for each of the different regions: Northern Ireland, Scotland, England & Wales. For England, the latest update is in 2018 & it is worth making sure you’re aware of the changes from the 2016 version.
Before you start work, you should receive an adapted personal version of this with the additional policies where you’ll be working. This outlines your specific rights as a junior doctor & knowing these well can make sure you’re looking after yourself.
Why is it important?
The contract outlines your rights and entitlements to pay, hours, leave, safety, expenses, facilities and everything else. If you don’t know your rights, how can you know if they’re not being considered?
If you’d prefer a video guide to Employment topics, check out our free course “Employment Essentials“. You can also find relevant articles covering leave, well-being, ensuring work-life balance & other employment topics here.
What should I do?
Step 1: Read the national Terms & Conditions
Reading the T&Cs that exist across your region will help you understand which hours are unsocial thus attracting more pay, limits on working hours (in case your rota is unsafe), the breaks you’re entitled and what policies must be in place if you do end up doing more hours or are unable to take breaks. These are key things that protect your well-being!
These form the bulk of the rules and there will be some adaptations for where you’ll be working.
Step 2: Ensure you receive your personal contract at least 2 months before you start
If you don’t receive it, you should let the Human Resources department know that you’ve not yet received it (you can contact them by email or switchboard). Most people don’t end up checking it nor do they sign the document, but by starting work you implicitly agree to it. Worse than this is that many receive it after they’ve started work!
Step 3: Look for issues
The terms should be broadly similar or refer back to the national T&Cs with amendments reflecting your role & grade. The issue is if they deviate significantly with something you shouldn’t be agreeing to & that’s why you should check it. In 2021, the BMA (the largest trade union for junior doctors) states over 25% of over 6000 contracts checked deviated from the national model.
If you can’t be bothered or find it too confusing to check for changes, you can join the BMA who can check it for you if you become a paying member. But by doing this & not learning it for yourself, you run the risk of never fully understanding your rights.
Check every line & refer back to the T&Cs above making sure there are no significant differences. If there are and you’re not sure what this means then you should ask HR, your colleagues or the BMA to clarify.
European Working Time Directive
As part of signing your contract, you may be asked if you’d like to opt out of the EWTD. Opting out allows you to go beyond an average of 48 hours, but you can’t opt out of every rule because the junior doctor contract safe hour limits will still apply. As a result, it is becoming less and less necessary to opt out but the usual motivation is if you want to do even more locums than you could normally do or because your rota breaches these safe limits.
Note this isn’t permanent either way – you can always switch later on so often people advise opting out at a later point if you need to. This rarely ever does occur in real life.
Resources & References
- Mind the Bleep – Employment Essentials Course, Leave, Pay & Tax, Work-Life balance & other articles
- BMA – Junior Doctor Handbook for England & JDH for Northern Ireland, Scotland & Wales
- BMA – Contracts for different grades & regions
- NHS – T&Cs for England (2016) with refresh in 2018
- BMA – Information on Pay, Pensions, Leave, Tax, Contracts & Finances
- BMA – Contract checking service
- BMA – European Working Time Directive
Written by Dr Akash Doshi (ST4 Endocrinology & Diabetes)
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