Breaks and Rest

Natural breaks

What is a natural break?

  • Natural breaks are the minimum rest requirements for all full shift duty periods, including the normal working day of all working patterns.
  • Natural breaks must apply for all working patterns for junior doctors.

What am I entitled to?

  • A 30-minute natural break after a period of approximately four hours continuous duty, without an interruption asking you to do something. This should be achieved within the fifth hour at the latest.
  • A single one-hour natural break doesn’t count as two natural breaks, nor would two separate 15-minute breaks count as a one natural break.
  • Being bleeped during a natural break is acceptable unless you must act on the call, or bleeping is repeated and disruptive and as such this would not be considered an adequate rest period.

Rest and natural breaks – what’s the difference?

  • A natural break is a 30 minute continuous break after approximately four hours of duty. The time is counted as actual work. Rest, as under the junior doctor contract (or New Deal), does not count as working time and this is what gives the difference between ‘duty / available hours’ and ‘actual hours’.

Rest and night shifts

What am I entitled to?

  • All junior doctors working on full shift rotas should have a minimum rest period of 46 hours after any run of full night shift working.
  • The minimum rest period should start on conclusion of the final night shift.
  • This means that from finishing the last night shift in any stretch (the majority of rotas work a four / three night split as junior doctors no longer work seven nights in a row), a junior doctor will have a minimum period of 46 hours before expected back at work.

Managing fatigue

The BMA has developed work to support doctors in managing concerns around fatigue and sleep deprivation.

  • Read: BMA Fatigue and Facilities charter sets out the steps to improve rest and catering facilities and reduce fatigue, so that doctors can safely, effectively and efficiently care for patients.  
  • Read: Guidance for doctors and other clinical staff on how best to manage the risks of fatigue associated with current working patterns. This includes:
    • Information about the causes and risks of fatigue
    • Advice on managing night shift working
    • Ways to maximise rest and recovery

What can you do?

  • Watch the video – Managing fatigue
  • Make sure you take adequate breaks and rest during your working day
  • If you feel too tired to drive home after a long day or night shift it is important that you speak to your HR about rest facilities available
  • Get involved with your BMA LNC on what improvements to facilities you want to see in your workplace

Further information and guidance

DL (2018) 16 Improving junior doctor working lives – 46 hours rest after a period of night shifts

Update on BMA/MSG Agreement on 46 Hours Rest Following a Period of Night Shifts

HDL (2003)10 Guidance on natural breaks (Scotland)

MEL (1999)40 New Deal for junior doctors – rest periods and working requirements