• Letter to consultants at Central Manchester University Hospitals Foundation Trust also says leave already booked will have to be cancelled
  • Cost-saving move described as “unprecedented” by a British Medical Association representative, who said it could raise concerns over patient safety
  • Trust may breach its £19m deficit plan for 2015-16

One of the England’s leading hospital trusts has moved to ban its medical consultants from taking leave for study or professional development, with the aim of reducing costs.

A letter to consultants at Central Manchester University Hospitals Foundation Trust, seen by HSJ, also suggests that leave which is already booked and arranged will have to be cancelled.

The cost-saving move was described as “unprecedented” by a British Medical Association representative, who said it could raise concerns over patient safety.

The letter says the measure will be temporary, but is required to “optimise productivity and reduce costs”.

The trust has planned for a deficit of £19m this year, but was already £20m in the red by the end of November, according to its most recent finance report.

The 4 February letter, sent by Jane Eddleston, an associate medical director, said: “Bob Pearson (the trust’s medical director) has this week notified all clinical heads of division to review all consultant leave which would be categorised as study/professional.

“We have been directed to review all such leave and agree with the consultant concerned to cancel this leave.

“If the leave has been authorised by medical staffing and expenses paid then the trust will reimburse these costs, but the time to attend the course/meeting can only be authorised at this time if the leave occurs in non DCC (direct clinical care) time, or the consultant is prepared to pay back DCC to attend the course/meeting…

“The agreements will only be temporary and are required to optimise productivity and reduce costs.”

It says there will be exceptions for leave which is “deemed essential to the business/reputation of the trust”. An example of where leave would be granted was for consultants sitting on national commissioning bodies.

Dr JS Bamrah, BMA council chair for the North West, said: “This seems to be an unprecedented measure by the trust, even given the unprecedented financial pressure it is under.

“I would expect this to be reconsidered because it could affect the appraisal of consultants. Patient safety would also be an issue if it means that consultants aren’t getting adequate training for their jobs.”

A spokesman for the FT said: “In common with the rest of the NHS, Central Manchester Hospitals Foundation Trust is continually seeking to improve the care offered to patients. This temporary check on non-essential study leave offers consultants the opportunity to provide more direct care to patients.”