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Employers failing nurses on flexible hours due to staff shortages

While some trusts are trailblazing flexible hours, some nurses say they are often at the mercy of their line manager and told ‘not to bother asking’

While some trusts are trailblazing flexible hours, some nurses say they are often at the mercy of their line manager and told ‘not to bother asking’

Employers are failing to deliver flexible working as nurses are told ‘not to bother asking’ as teams are too short-staffed.

Nurses told how they had struggled to access flexible working patterns, despite NHS Staff Council terms being amended in September to allow all NHS employees in England the right to request it from their first day of work.

Some line managers feel reasonable adjustments are optional, say

While some trusts are trailblazing flexible hours, some nurses say they are often at the mercy of their line manager and told ‘not to bother asking’

Employers failing nurses on flexible hours due to staff shortages
Picture: Pete Coburn

Employers are failing to deliver flexible working as nurses are told ‘not to bother asking’ as teams are too short-staffed.

Nurses told how they had struggled to access flexible working patterns, despite NHS Staff Council terms being amended in September to allow all NHS employees in England the right to request it from their first day of work.

Some line managers feel reasonable adjustments are optional, say nurses

But while trusts, such as Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Dartford and Gravesham NHS trust, are trailblazing flexible hours for the workforce, nurses at RCN congress in Glasgow shared how they were often at the mercy of their manager.

‘From personal experience when it comes to flexible working, it’s always been the discretion of your line manager, which, if you don’t have a particularly supportive line manager, leaves you stuck,’ said London nurse Harriet Bailey.

‘I still come across line managers who feel that reasonable adjustments are optional – that they’re luxuries,’ another nurse said.

In Sheffield, the hospital trust has been offering a flexible working policy for more than 28 years. These include nine-day fortnights, compressed hours, term-time working and annualised hours, where staff work longer hours in the emergency department and other departments during winter pressures, and can work less hours in the Spring.

Martha, a nurse from Scotland, welcomed the NHS Staff Council changes in England and said she hope they would be rolled out in Scotland soon. But she added she was worried the biggest danger to flexible working was going undetected, as managers dissuade staff verbally due to pressures on the NHS

She said: ‘There are managers telling people: “You know, technically you could apply, but the needs of the service are just so big that I could refuse – so don’t bother putting it down on paper”. That’s the majority, so we can’t even keep track of those people.’

Flexible working is crucial factor in retaining valuable staff

But NHS Employers, who ran a session on flexible working at the RCN congress, confirmed that nurses have the right to request flexible working from the first day of their employment and, if it can’t be agreed, they can also appeal.

Senior nurse lead for the national retention programme at NHS England and NHS Improvement Kerry Jones said that offering flexible working can be a key feature of retaining valuable staff who need a different working pattern.

‘It’s never been more important to support retention,’ she said.

‘The retention landscape is complex. It’s simple things that can trigger a disconnection. There are existing challenges, like planning a rota with shortages. But we know that flexibility is key and that strategically it works for retention.’

Key changes in the NHS Staff Council terms

These include:

  • A contractual right to request flexible working from day one of your employment
  • No limit on the number of requests, and the right to make them regardless of the reason
  • New requirements for central oversight of processes by employers to ensure consistency of access to ways of flexible working, including ‘escalation stage’
  • In circumstances where a line manager cannot agree flexible working process, an employee has the right to escalate the request to appeal

Source: NHS Employers (2021) Flexible Working in the NHS



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