A Doctors Rights: Annual Leave

Published on: 12 Aug 2022

Doctors rights - Annual leave

A doctor’s NHS annual leave allowance is set out in their contract and varies for consultants, junior doctors, SAS (Staff, Associate Specialist, and Specialty) doctors, GPs, medical academics, part-time staff and Less-Than-Full-Time (LTFT) trainees, and locum doctors. This guide will focus on and provide insight into junior doctors’ rights on annual leave.


NHS Annual Leave Entitlement Principles

Can an employer refuse holiday? Generally speaking, your employer should try to respond positively to leave requests. To be able to provide the best and safest possible care to your patients, it is quintessential you make full use of your statutory annual leave, and consequently employers do accept almost all reasonable requests. 

However, they do expect a minimum of six weeks’ notice. Should your request be outside of this notice period due to unforeseen circumstances, they should still give it consideration provided it is a reasonable request.

NHS holiday entitlement for junior doctors depends on whether they are employed on the old 2002 contract or new 2016 contract. If you are working under the old contract, your minimum annual leave is determined by your grade and incremental pay point. 


Details for both contracts are outlined in Table 1. 

2002 Junior Doctor Contract

Foundation year 1

5 weeks

Foundation year 2

StRs, StR(FT)s, SpRs on minimum, 1st, or 2nd incremental point of payscale

StRs, StR(FT)s, SpRs on 3rd or higher incremental point of payscale

6 weeks

2016 Junior Doctor Contract

1st appointment to NHS

27 days

After five years’ NHS service

32 days

Table 1 Basic Annual Leave Entitlement for Junior Doctors in the UK.


LTFT trainees’ annual leave is calculated on a prorated basis. For instance, if you are working 60% of the full-time rota, you are entitled to 60% of the annual leave allowance, and 60% of public holidays.

You are also entitled to paid annual leave if you are working on a temporary basis, e.g. through a locum agency such as NHS Professionals (NHSP). The NHSP holiday booking system provides holidays, long-term sickness, as well as maternity leave.


Rights Specific to the 2002 Junior Doctor Contract: Calculating Annual Leave

A junior doctor’s working week can often be chaotic. Subsequently, it may be cumbersome to calculate exactly how many days of holiday you are entitled to. The Junior Doctors’ Handbook contains a section explaining how to calculate a week’s leave. Additionally, you may be able to find an annual leave calculator on your health board’s webpage.

Before granting annual leave, your employer will arrange for cover for your leave. It is also common to design a roster so that only one doctor per rota can be on leave at any one time.


Public Holidays

In addition to annual leave, you are also entitled to eight public holidays per annum. If you still decide to work on a public holiday, or work a night shift or on-call running into a public holiday, you get a day off in lieu.


Fixed Annual Leave

Many rotas under the 2002 contract incorporate so called ‘leave weeks’, which are normal working weeks with no out-of-hour commitment and can be swapped with another junior doctor, allowing you to go on leave. If you wish to take leave on other weeks, you can discuss swapping on-call/out-of-hours duties with a fellow junior doctor. Other employers may have periods of annual leave built in the rota; doctors either opt for an allocated slot or choose between slots that suit them. 

This practice is, however, not supported by the British Medical Association (BMA) and is in fact prohibited under the 2016 junior doctor contract. Employers are encouraged to move away from fixed annual leave as doctors should be allowed more flexibility over when leave can be taken. Most employers are happy for you to get involved in designing a rota since in many cases fixed annual leave is only inserted for convenience and can readily be scrapped.


Carrying Over Annual Leave

If you were unable to take your full annual leave before the end of the ‘leave year’, you can carry over up to five days (for foundation doctors it is four days); nevertheless, this is subject to service demand and authorisation by the employer. Carrying holiday over from one employer to another can be more cumbersome and should be planned well in advance. Normally, the previous employer is responsible for notifying the new employer, but it is still recommended to confirm this yourself.


Sick Leave

You are entitled to sick leave if you are unable to come to work due to illness, injury, or disability. An employer has no right to call you in for work when you are unwell and must arrange for cover; albeit you are obliged to notify them immediately of your absence, the reason, and your expected time of return. 

Your allowance is determined from your length of service but may also be extended by your employer if deemed necessary. Your entitlements are as follow:

  • During your first year: one month’s full pay; two months’ half pay if you’ve completed four months

  • During your second year: two months’ full pay and two months’ half pay.

  • During your third year: four months’ full pay and four months’ half pay.

  • During your fourth and fifth years: five months’ full pay and five months’ half pay.

  • After completing five years of service: six months’ full pay and six months’ half pay.


Rights Specific to the 2016 Junior: Doctor Contract

Leave for Life-Changing Events: In case of life-changing events (as defined by the doctor), your employer must grant you the requested leave, provided you have given a six weeks’ notice. This leave is separate from your statutory annual leave articulated in the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service Handbook.


Calculating Annual Leave: Your allowance is calculated based on what you would have earned had you been at work. There may also be local schemes facilitating you to purchase additional leave. Any additional leave must be covered by Health Education England (HEE) and agreed on behalf of the postgraduate dean.


Sick Leave: If you become unwell during annual leave, this is suspended and becomes sick leave, provided you can produce a medical certificate. 



  1. Leave. British Medical Association.


  1. Annual Leave. University Hospitals Birmingham – NHS Foundation Trust.


  1. Annual Leave. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.