New rights aimed at giving NHS staff a better work-life balance have been won by unions representing staff.
The NHS Staff Council has announced a new deal that includes the right to request flexible working arrangements from the first day staff are employed in the NHS. Previously, staff had to be employed for six months before they could make this request. The provisions will apply in England, Scotland and Wales, with similar measures expected to follow in Northern Ireland.
‘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,’ said RCN Acting General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen.
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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.’
Poor work-life balance is often given as a key reason for employees wanting to leave the health service. This agreement is expected to help recruit and retain health care staff at a time when the extra demands of the pandemic have left staff exhausted with many re-evaluating their priorities and considering leaving the NHS.
From 13 September 2021 staff will be able to make an unlimited number of applications for flexible working, instead of just one a year, and submit applications without having to justify requests or provide specific reasons. In addition, they will be able to access a process where managers must refer requests that cannot be accommodated initially, to ensure all possible solutions are explored.
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‘Greater flexibility around working arrangements is crucial if we are to retain the NHS midwives and maternity support workers we have, and bring more into our maternity services,’ said Alice Sorby, Employment Relations Advisor at the RCM.
‘The sort of flexibility and better opportunities for work-life balance open to many outside the NHS need to become as mainstream as possible within it. This has though got to work for all NHS staff including those on the frontline delivering care every hour, night and day. For too long NHS workers have been straightjacketed into a rigid working regime that means many who would stay in the profession have had to leave because of family and other commitments, and the same problems deter others from joining.’