working for the nhs, nhs working hours, agenda for change, improving working lives

How many hours is full-time in the NHS?

By Keith Pilkington

​The NHS is a very fulfilling place to work. Not only is it one of the largest employers in the world, and the biggest in Europe, it also offers a vast range of exciting opportunities. If you’re considering working for the NHS, you may have a lot of questions – one of which might be how many hours you’ll be required to work.

Working hours

The standard hours of all full-time NHS staff are 37.5 per week, excluding meal breaks (unless it’s a business lunch). 60% of nurses and midwives work 12-hour shifts, typically from 7am to 7pm, or 7pm to 7am (12-hour night shifts are possible as long as the average length of a night shift doesn’t exceed 8 hours in a 24-hour period, when measured over 17 weeks); this enables the NHS to offer patients 24-hour care.

Shift patterns are usually detailed in an employee’s contract and arranged through a roster. Staff will normally not be expected to work over 48 hours a week, over 17 weeks. However, staff can opt out of the 48-hour weekly limit if they agree this with their employer, in writing. All staff are entitled to a minimum break of 20 minutes, uninterrupted, when their daily working time is more than six hours.

Other conditions and benefits

The NHS pay system known as Agenda for Change applies to all staff except doctors, dentists and very senior managers. We have previously discussed the benefits you can expect in working for the NHS.

These include:

  • Pay enhancements to reward overtime working

  • Annual leave entitlement of 27 days per year, plus eight general/public holidays. This then rises to 33 days after 10 years

  • Better care and pay progression based on the level of knowledge and skills

  • Annual personal development reviews to support career aspirations

  • Enrollment to the NHS Pension Scheme; one of the most generous in the UK

Work/life balance

The NHS understands the importance of its staff having a healthy balance between work and personal life. That’s why the Improving Working Lives (IWL) initiative was introduced in 2000; it has helped to create a real culture shift in the NHS, and has reduced stress, increased motivation and improved productivity among staff. Flexible working means:

  • Part-time and job share opportunities are available, as well as term-time only, evening and weekend positions

  • The NHS may be able to help towards childcare, including nursery care and after school clubs

  • Many NHS workers can take an extended break to look after young children, or other dependents, who need special care

  • Staff have access to work-related health services, such as counselling

For more information on NHS careers, read our collection of blogs.