Your Rights on Rotas

In this article we look more closely at your rights regarding shifts and rota patterns. There are contractual limits on working hours and protected rest periods – which are necessary to ensure both patient and doctor safety.


Guardian of Safe Working Hours

There is a Guardian of Safe Working Hours appointed to every hospital or trust. They should be your first point of call for any concerns regarding a contractual breach of your rotas. They act as champions for the safe working hours for doctors in training programmes and it’s their responsibility to ensure that doctors are safely rostered. They’ll review all exception reports and escalate or intervene if necessary.


Breakdown of your rights

Here’s a summary of the rules hospitals need to stick to when generating your rota:


  • No more than 5 long days in a row (only 4 in a row if shift finishes after 23:00). There needs to be a 48 hour rest period after this
  • No more than 4 night shifts in a row and a 46 hour rest if you do more than 3
  • Weekends can be no more frequent than 1 in 2
  • There must be 11 hours of rest between each shift (not on-calls) – any breaches of this should result in time off in lieu


  • One 30 minute break if a shift is longer than 5 hours
  • Two 30 minute breaks if a shift is longer than 9 hours
  • No breaks should be taken before an hour into a shift or within the last hour


  • Maximum length of an individual on-call duty period is 24 hours
  • Whilst on a 24 hour on-call, you should expect to get 8 hours rest

You may voluntarily choose to opt out of the 48 hour week (working time regulation). However, this must be made on an individual basis, voluntarily and under no pressure. If you do opt out, the maximum average hours per week is 56.

If you are in Less than Full Time Training, your hours should not exceed 40 hours per week on average.

Head here to read our article on annual leave and study leave entitlement.

Exception Reporting

A full guide to exception reporting can be found on the BMA website.

If your day-to-day work schedule moves away from your agreed hours, you should consider exception reporting. This can reflect differences in total hours of work, pattern of hours worked, missed breaks or educational opportunities, or lack of available support.

Submitting an exception report is every trainee’s right – you don’t need to get a senior to sign off on it before you do it. It should be done within 14 days of the event (or 7 days when making a claim for payment).

Exception reports should be sent to your educational supervisor and the Guardian of Safe Working Hours or the Director of Medical Education (or both). They should be submitted electronically – all trusts should have reporting systems already in place. If they don’t, or its faulty, use emails as an interim measure. Paper reports are not permitted.

There are several outcomes from exception reporting:

  • No action required – however it will be logged for possible use in the future
  • Compensation due to the doctor for the extra hours worked. This can also be provided in the form of Time Off In Lieu
  • Financial penalty to the trust and money re-invested into junior doctor support and training
  • Work schedule review – if the overrunning shifts are persistent, a full review of a rota may be indicated

Whatever the outcome, you should receive this electronically and be able to discuss it with the relevant people. The BMA website has a comprehensive guide about exception reporting outcomes.

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