Exceptional Extenuating Circumstances policy

Filed under
NSHCS Policies
Publication type


This policy applies to all trainees on the Scientist Training Programme (STP) and Higher Specialist Scientist Training (HSST) in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The policy provides a process through which trainees can apply for changes to their training programme, if exceptional extenuating circumstances arise. This could include:

  • additional time to complete the training
  • deferral of training
  • step off training
  • career break

The policy does not apply to statutory absence relating to maternity, paternity, parental or adoption leave. These circumstances are not considered to be exceptional. Management should be between the employer, local commissioner and the University. The National School of Healthcare Science (the School) should be notified of the agreed plan and timelines and is available to advise on any possible impact on training and completion, where required.

With regards to the academic programme, trainees must follow the relevant University processes for exceptional circumstances, as this policy does not apply to that part of the programme.

Also not covered by the policy is the final exit examinations for either programme; The Independent Assessment of Clinical Competence (IACC) for STP and the Independent Assessment of Professional Skills (IAPS) for HSST. Processes for the IACC and IAPS are available.

Finally, the policy does not cover any necessary reasonable adjustments if trainees have a pre diagnosed disability or existing long-term medical condition. This should be reported to the School at application stage, on enrolment, or as soon as possible thereafter. It will then be recorded and any appropriate arrangements for support, put in place at a local level.

Any decisions made will be agreed with the relevant education providers (employer and university where appropriate) and the organisations commissioning or contributing financially to the programme.


Principles of the policy

This policy is built around the following principles:

  1. All trainees on the STP and HSST are required to complete a variety of activities within their workplace and university. Both must be within the agreed timescale in accordance with their relevant curriculum and assessment strategy for their training. Trainees must provide evidence that they have achieved the required standards for these activities, in order to receive a Certificate of Completion from the School.
  2. If there is a significant incident or set of circumstances, usually not of the trainee’s own making, which results in them not being able to complete all of the required activities, the School is able to recommend and approve changes, with the aim of supporting the trainee, to achieve a positive outcome in their training.
  3. All recommendations for changes to the training as defined in this policy, are subject to agreement with both the host employer and the local commissioner funding the training. Occasionally, this may also require agreement with the university depending on the circumstances.
  4. No trainee should gain an unfair advantage over other trainees, by using the exceptional extenuating circumstance process.
  5. This policy ensures that the standards of the School awards are safeguarded, for the benefit of current and prospective trainees, employers and service users/patients.

Extensions of training

When circumstances beyond the trainee’s control have a negative impact on their ability to complete their training, they may apply for an extension of time. If approved, the School will usually recommend additional time to complete the required activities of the programme without penalty.

Extensions may apply in one or more of the following circumstances:

  • When exceptional extenuating circumstances prevent a trainee from completing all the required training activities, including recording them on the e-portfolio.
  • When exceptional extenuating circumstances can be shown to have affected a trainee’s performance in activities already undertaken within the training.

Applications for extension will not usually be approved, if they arise from matters within the trainee’s control, such as:

  • failure of a trainee to organise their time appropriately
  • a trainee’s own negligence or carelessness
  • circumstances for which trainees have had ample opportunity to plan
  • circumstances which were not disclosed at the appropriate time (unless the trainee was unable to do so due to circumstance e.g. impaired mental capacity)
  • any failure of computer-related equipment

Examples of circumstances that are most likely to be considered are available.

If an application is unsuccessful, any activities already completed and submitted will be treated as the final submission. If that occurs a trainee will then be subject to the standard processes that apply, to an incomplete submission.

Applications can normally be submitted at any point during the final year, but no later than one month before the agreed completion date. In exceptional cases an application may be accepted later or earlier, if there is a clear reason why e.g. a recent and unforeseen event. New applications received after the published completion deadline will not be considered. In all cases it is the trainee’s responsibility to submit the form by the specified deadline.

STP trainees should refer to the School’s STP Requirements for Completion policy for details of completion timescales. HSST trainees should refer to the IAPS guidance for their completion requirements.

If a trainee’s application is successful, the School will inform them of their new deadline for completion. The panel’s recommendation of an extension may be up to a maximum of 3 months. Longer periods will only be given in cases of prolonged sickness or other unavoidable absence. Trainees may then complete any remaining activities at any time during the extension period. An extension of time may not automatically include additional funding and will be dependent on individual circumstances.


Deferral of training

A deferral of training is a period of time when a trainee is out of training. Their training status is maintained but all training activities are suspended. Deferrals will be permitted for up to 12 months. Longer periods may be supported but trainees would need to reapply and provide current, compelling evidence of the need for further time out of training.

Deferral requires commitment of an agreed return date from the trainee, as well as support from the employing department. This requires an updated training plan. Liaison with the University provider will also be necessary to ensure an appropriate plan is in place for the academic programme.

Deferral of training will only usually be granted on statutory grounds relating to chronic ill health incurred during the training, where the trainee is deemed unfit to train for a prolonged period. This is a minimum of 6 weeks or more. This usually only applies when the condition is newly diagnosed and has not been previously experienced prior to the start of training. However, if a condition was identified during the selection process for the programme it can also be considered. A deferral of training request requires a medical assessment of the condition. This can be a GP or consultant report and/or an occupational health review by the employer.

In the case of a deferral, a trainee may maintain employment status with their employer, but they would not be expected to participate in any service support or training activities, including the academic programme. If employment status is maintained, the trainee should be managed via the employer’s relevant sickness policies. Training will not normally be funded during an agreed period of deferral.

A deferral can be requested at any point during the programme.


Step off training

Step off training is a period of time out of training, where training status is maintained, but all training activities are suspended. A trainee maintains their employment status and may continue with clinical/service activities but is not actively training.

An application to step off requires a commitment from the trainee of an agreed return date. Support from the employing department and updated training plans will also be required. Liaison with the University provider will also be necessary to ensure an appropriate plan is in place for the academic programme.

Step off is usually permitted when there are significant non-health related issues. For example, a training department’s capacity to train or a significant restructure, which renders the programme non deliverable and cannot be resolved within 3 to 6 months. If this continues long term, then the transfer of training policy may be applied.

If the step off period is longer than 12 months, then ongoing participation in the training would need to be reviewed to consider if/how knowledge and skills can be maintained.

During the step off period the trainee would not be funded by the organisation commissioning the training. Financial support would come from the employing organisation.


Career break

Career break relates to trainees who, for personal reasons, request time out from their training programme and employment. Their training status is not maintained during this time. Career breaks will only usually be granted when there has been a significant change in personal circumstance and there is clear reasoning for the request. Reasons should be unforeseen and/or unavoidable and supported with evidence. Requests to return to the programme must be submitted in writing.

A trainee would be expected to return to the programme within an agreed amount of time. This would usually be no longer than 12 months in order to maintain currency of skills and knowledge. A trainee would be permitted only one career break during their training period.

  • A career break would not normally be granted until a trainee has been on the programme for a minimum of 6 months. It would also not be allowed in the final year of training.
  • A career break application must be supported by the employing department and the University, whose policies should also be followed to confirm the break. Career breaks will be unfunded.

Application process

To submit an Exceptional Extenuating Circumstances (EEC) application, trainees must complete the EEC application form in full and provide relevant evidence.

All EEC applications must be signed by the relevant Training Officer/Supervisor and can also be accompanied by a statement, or evidence, confirming support for the request. An extension of time may have financial implications, so the relevant commissioner for the training will be notified of the application before a decision is made. The School together with the local commissioner, will make the decision of whether to grant an extension or not. Trainees or their training department should contact the local commissioner before they apply to find out what, if any, financial options may be available.

All medical evidence must be provided by a professional who has specialist knowledge of the circumstance. For example, this could be a GP or consultant report and/or report from Occupational Health via the employer.

  • Applications for an extension of time can be submitted at any point during the final year but no later than 1 month before the agreed completion date.
  • Applications for deferral and step off can be submitted at any point during the training to which the request is relevant, but no later than 6 months before the agreed completion date.
  • Applications for a career break cannot be submitted during the first 6 months of the programme, and no later than 12 months before the agreed completion date.

All applications must be supported by appropriate evidence, including a proposed revised training plan demonstrating how the programme will be managed. The plan should indicate the length of change requested. Examples of the types of evidence that may be required are available.

It may be necessary to apply whilst waiting for supporting evidence to become available. If this is the case, the application must still be submitted by the appropriate time. The evidence must then be submitted as soon as it becomes available. The application will not be sent for review/decision until all appropriate evidence has been received.

All applications are considered by the School’s Training Management Panel (TMP). The panel are required to decide on each application within 5 working days of its meeting. It is the responsibility of the panel to ensure that any approved application is appropriate and that sufficient, relevant evidence has been provided.

It is the responsibility of the Chair of the panel to notify trainees of their decision.

Trainees are not usually permitted to submit a claim for the same reason more than once. If a further application is necessary, a trainee must outline what additional factors have affected their ability to complete the training, since the first application was submitted and approved.

Trainees have the right to appeal against an outcome within 10 working days of being notified of the decision. The appeal will be considered by the Head of School and the HEE Post Graduate Dean with responsibility for Healthcare Science, or their nominated representative(s), whose decision will be final.

Last updated on 12th February 2024