Browse all articles
By The Next Step

Maternity and paternity leave for junior doctors

5 min
Medical students sitting on table taking notes and smiling

NHS junior doctors are entitled to a range of benefits related to maternity and paternity leave. Here we run through how they work.

Entering working life as an NHS junior doctor can be an exciting and busy time. And it’s fair to say you’re probably not thinking too much about the benefits in your contract when the time comes to start a family.

But did you know that the NHS offers its continuous employees generous maternity and paternity benefits that surpass many offered in the private sector? It’s worth taking some time to review them, as it could help you make more informed decisions as you juggle work and family life.

Maternity leave

If you’re a new mother or primary adopter, you’re entitled to maternity leave. This includes birth mothers, co-adopters and spouses or partners who live with the birth mother or adopter (including same-sex spouses and partners).

To qualify, you must have worked for 12 months continuously for one or more NHS employers by the beginning of the 11th week before the expected week of childbirth. Employers include health authorities, NHS boards, NHS trusts and the Northern Ireland Health Service.

The maternity leave period covers 52 weeks and is broken down as follows in terms of pay:

  • 8 weeks of full pay, less any statutory maternity pay (SMP) or maternity allowance (MA)
  • 18 weeks of half pay plus any SMP or MA (providing the total does not exceed full pay)
  • 13 weeks of SMP or MA
  • 13 weeks of unpaid leave

Paternity leave

New fathers or partners of birth mothers or primary adopters are entitled to two weeks of paternity leave on full pay (minus any statutory paternity pay received) after birth or adoption.

You can choose to take either one or two consecutive weeks of paternity leave, so you can’t spread it out as odd days or separate weeks. To qualify you need 12 months of service with one or more NHS employers by the beginning of the week in which the baby is due.

Shared parental leave

Shared parental leave (SPL) can offer you flexibility and a more balanced approach to parenting. You and your partner can decide to be off work at the same time or take turns being on leave to look after your child.

  • SPL allows for a maximum of 50 weeks of leave to be shared between parents
  • NHS junior doctors are eligible for SPL, even if they are required to change employers as part of their training programme
  • The maximum joint enhanced pay entitlement is six weeks of full pay inclusive of any statutory shared parental pay
  • 13 weeks of any statutory shared parental pay you are entitled to
  • 13 weeks of unpaid leave

Adoption leave

NHS junior doctors who become adoptive parents can qualify for benefits with at least 26 weeks of service by the week the adoption match occurs. Adoption leave can last up to 52 weeks.

You’ll have to let your NHS employer know the date on which your child is expected to be placed with you for adoption and the date you want your leave to begin.

If you’re an NHS junior doctor who is adopting a child, you’re entitled to:

  • Full pay up to eight weeks less any statutory adoption pay (SAP) or adoption allowance (AA)
  • 18 weeks of half pay plus any SAP or AA, provided the total does not exceed full pay
  • 13 weeks of SAP or AA
  • 13 weeks of unpaid leave

Antenatal appointments

Did you know that all pregnant NHS employees are entitled to paid time off for antenatal care? This isn’t just for medical examinations – it can also include relaxation classes and parent craft classes, as long as these are advised by a registered medical practitioner, midwife or health visitor.

Partners and fathers are entitled, as a statutory minimum, to unpaid time off to attend up to two antenatal or adoption appointments. That includes up to 6.5 hours per appointment, although an employer could agree to provide more.

How do these benefits compare to the private sector?

In the UK, statutory maternity and paternity benefits in the private sector are set by the government and provide a baseline that employers must adhere to. However, may employers offer enhanced benefits that exceed these statutory minimums.

The current statutory maternity pay in the private sector includes six weeks paid at 90% of weekly average earnings and the remaining 33 weeks at either the statutory maternity pay rate or at 90% of average weekly earnings – whichever is lower.

NHS benefits are more generous because full pay is offered for two extra weeks above the statutory six weeks, as well as 18 weeks of half pay plus any SMP or MA (not exceeding full pay).

Paternity leave also goes further in the NHS. Junior doctors with 12 months continuous service are entitled to two weeks of paternity leave on full pay. This compares with the private company statutory guidelines of two weeks paid at either £172.48 a week or 90% of their average weekly earnings – again, whichever is lower.

Benefits as you progress in the NHS

As you become more senior within the NHS, the maternity and paternity benefits can differ. For example, senior doctors like consultants and specialty doctors who have continuous service with one or more NHS employers are entitled to the same 52 weeks of maternity leave as junior doctors. However, their pay entitlements may vary based on their length of service and their contract.

Pay scales are likely to be higher if you progress into senior roles, so the actual amount of full pay on maternity or paternity leave will reflect this compared to junior doctors. The calculation of maternity pay for senior doctors is based on their average weekly earnings, which includes regular contractual payments.

As you embark on your role as a junior doctor, the demands on your time might make it harder to examine your contract and figure out what you’re entitled to if your family situation changes. But help is always on hand, and there are experts at the BMA who you can contact if you have any questions.

Information is correct at the time of publication.

You might be interested in...

Income protection for doctors

What is income protection, and why should you be thinking about it? From NHS sick pay considerations to getting the right advice.

Buying a property as a junior doctor

In this blog, Zarnigar Khan talks us through her experience of finding a mortgage and a property as a junior doctor.