Health unions negotiate unlimited flexible working requests for NHS workers

The new rights will be effective from 13 September ​2021. Employers and unions are working to revise and update existing local policies and work on the changes needed.

James McKay
29 June 2021

Unions expect the new arrangement to help the NHS recruit and retain workers.

An agreement on ​​new flexible working rights aimed at giving NHS staff a better work-life balance is announced today.

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The new contractual terms agreed between healthcare unions and NHS employers mean workers will be able to make unlimited flexible working requests, not need to justify the requests to employers and will be eligible for flexible working arrangements from the first day of their employment.

Unions expect the new arrangement will help the NHS recruit and retain health workers by addressing concerns over a poor work-life balance – a reason often given for those leaving roles.

Promoting flexibility.

Under the new conditions, 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.

Chair of the health unions on the NHS staff council and UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “The pandemic has put so much strain on the lives of NHS workers that many are re-evaluating their priorities. Rigid shifts and long hours mean staff often miss out on valuable quality time with family or the chance to pursue outside interests.

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“Some choose to take ​on agency or bank work because ​that allows them to control how ​they arrange their lives. But this also mean​s losing out on pay, job security, career opportunities and other benefits of being part of the ​NHS.

“Flexible working does happen in the NHS, but this new agreement will make it a more realistic option for staff in all roles. ​However, it will only be effective if chronic staff shortages issues are addressed ​too.”

Rigid shifts and long hours.

The new rights will be effective from 13 September ​2021. Employers and unions are working to revise and update existing local policies and work on the changes needed.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) acting General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen added; “We are proud to have worked with NHS Staff Council partners in securing this positive outcome for nursing staff. However, the right to request flexible working is just the first step in a major culture change necessary to ensure frontline staff, required to work 24/7, can also work flexibly.

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“The pandemic has shown just how important it is to make sure nursing staff are not restricted to rigid shifts and long hours. They too must be given the time they need to rest and recover as they begin to emerge from the efforts of the last 18 months.”

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