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Unlimited flexible working requests for nurses after NHS rethink on work-life balance

Move is part of an expanded flexible working policy hoped to improve staff retention

Move is part of an expanded flexible working policy hoped to improve retention of experienced staff

NHS nurses can now make unlimited flexible working requests after new rules came into force aimed at preventing staff quitting the health service for a better work-life balance.

Policy overhaul comes after deal with health unions

Under the changes, NHS staff in England and Wales will no longer need to justify flexible working requests and can apply from their first day in the job.

The changes came into effect on 13 September and were the result of a deal between health unions and employers to improve staff retention.

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Move is part of an expanded flexible working policy hoped to improve retention of experienced staff

Drawing showing a nurse, a calendar and an hourglass to illustrate flexible working
Picture: iStock

NHS nurses can now make unlimited flexible working requests after new rules came into force aimed at preventing staff quitting the health service for a better work-life balance.

Policy overhaul comes after deal with health unions

Under the changes, NHS staff in England and Wales will no longer need to justify flexible working requests and can apply from their first day in the job.

The changes came into effect on 13 September and were the result of a deal between health unions and employers to improve staff retention.

The RCN has previously said the new rights were just the first step in a ‘major culture change’ needed in the NHS to ensure staff can work flexibly.

‘The pandemic has shown just how important it is to make sure nursing staff are not restricted to rigid shifts and long hours,’ RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said when the rule changes were first announced in June.

‘They too must be given the time they need to rest and recover as they begin to emerge from the efforts of the past 18 months.'

Flexible working opportunities may improve staff retention

A need for greater flexible working opportunities was highlighted in the 2020-21 NHS People Plan, the government’s recruitment and retention strategy.

And in August, Nursing Standard revealed that almost 75,000 nurses and other staff in the NHS took voluntary early retirement in the past decade in England and Wales, prompting workforce experts to call for renewed focus on retaining experienced older staff.

Flexible working: key changes at a glance

NHS staff working in England and Wales* can now:

  • Request flexible working from the first day of employment
  • Make unlimited requests for flexible working (previously only one request per year was permitted)
  • Request flexible working without needing a reason to justify it
  • Any flexible working request initially denied by your manager will be escalated to explore ways to accommodate it. Employers will be also be expected to promote flexible working when recruiting and in meetings and appraisals

*Similar provisions are expected to follow in Northern Ireland. Scotland will introduce the changes as part of a review of existing NHS workforce policies which is currently underway


Further information

NHS Employers: New Contractual Flexible Working Provisions


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