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There is much ambiguity about consultant leave allowances and arrangements for cover in the National Health Service. We analysed job descriptions for 47 consultant posts advertised in mid-2000. 35 defined a duty rota but only 3 mentioned specific available leave (all different). In 32 there was no mention of cover for colleagues on leave. When a consultant is absent, colleagues tend to provide cover for emergency cases but not for elective admissions, which are managed largely by junior doctors. This arrangement is particularly hazardous in surgical specialties. If elective surgery is to continue when the consultant is absent, arrangements for leave and cover need to be more clearly defined.