Dr Hallett, a junior doctor (FY1) on a General Surgery rota, sought declarations as to the interpretation of her contract of employment relating to the monitoring of working hours and breaks, plus the entitlement to pay uplifts.
Dr Hallett, a junior doctor (FY1) on a General Surgery rota, sought declarations as to the interpretation of her contract of employment relating to the monitoring of working hours and breaks, plus the entitlement to pay uplifts. The contract issued to junior doctors at the Trust incorporated the material provisions of the national Terms and Conditions of Service for NHS Medical and Dental Staff (England) 2002 (version 10). The Trust also had in place its own guide for junior doctors on the monitoring process. Dr Hallett contended that three other documents were also incorporated into her contract of employment; the Health Service Circular 98/240, the Health Service Circular 00/031 and the Department of Health's Junior Doctors' hours – Monitoring Guidance. Dr Hallatt argued these documents contractually prescribed how working hours and breaks should be monitored and how pay uplifts should be addressed by the Trust. If Dr Hallett's claim was successful then this would have triggered a Band 3 uplift in salary i.e. 100% of basic pay.
The Trust, like many other NHS Trusts, used the Allocate software to monitor compliance.
The court held that the three Department of Health documents were not incorporated into junior doctors' contracts of employment as there had been no agreement either expressly or by implication to do so. The Trust's contract of employment included an express obligation to monitor working hours and natural breaks. It also provided that the Trust had to conduct monitoring through "robust local arrangements." It did not refer to the national guidance documents. The court found that the Trust therefore had discretion as to the methodology adopted for monitoring. The court held that the Trust's own local guidance on monitoring, plus associated FAQ's, were incorporated into the contract despite there being no express reference to them in the contract.
The court then went on to consider whether the methodology adopted by the Trust was rational. The court accepted that it was rational, where data was missing, to substitute certain hypothetical data where there was incomplete data during a monitoring exercise. The BMA, that supported Dr Hallett, argued that the Trust's use of assumptions had been incorrect. However it sought to have its own assumptions taken into account in the monitoring exercise. The court noted that any approach to monitoring would have drawbacks but there was no reason on the evidence before it to find the Trust's approach was irrational in this case.
What does this mean for employers?
The case is useful for employers who have the difficult task of evaluating junior doctors working hours and natural breaks. It is also a helpful finding for Trusts who do need to make certain assumptions, where full monitoring information is not available. Provided that they take a "rational" approach this should not be challenged. It is useful to note the court's comments on the Trust's own policy which set out workable rules and gave practical assistance for the junior doctors to follow. Any medical HR staff that are involved in this area would be well advised to read this Judgment in full.