Surgeon trade union calls for parental leave shake-up
The UK’s sole trade union for the surgical community has called for a shake-up in parental leave protocols, having revealed that NHS employees are being left in the dark, or even left feeling discriminated against, when they are pregnant and/or seeking parental leave.
The Confederation of British Surgery (www.cbsgb.co.uk) highlighted the responses of a survey designed to ascertain how well supported the surgical workforce, from trainees to consultants, felt when seeking information, support, or guidance with regards to parental leave.
It found that over half (57%) of respondents felt that the Trust they work for failed to give them clear guidance, and almost 70% felt let down by their line managers and lead clinicians. Nine out of 10 (89%) of those surveyed called for an information pack to be made available publicly online, with individuals calling for standardised information that is easily accessible, as well as for trusts and clinical teams to ‘accept national rules’ around paternity leave.
Robust training for lead clinicians was a suggestion from one respondent as to how to better support those seeking parental leave, with survey responses highlighting several areas in which supervisors were floundering, including the provision of information about antenatal leave, length of parental leave, Keeping in Touch days, breast pumping and storage, and on-call obligations while breastfeeding. Several respondents, both male and female, highlighted the lack of guidance regarding what constitutes ‘safe duties’, including direction as to the impact of radiation exposure and x-rays during pregnancy.
Respondents were encouraged to speak about their own experiences and struggles while trying to navigate the parental leave minefield. Highlights of survey respondents’ experiences:
- Forced to take fertility treatment appointments as annual leave, with the lack of support from the Trust leading the respondent to ‘no longer pursue a family’
- No phased return, subsequently forced into 24-hour on-call shifts on their first day back
- Requested facilities to breast pump and was told to use a disabled toilet
- Distinct lack of knowledge from line manager, leaving them unsupportive, unable/unwilling to guide
- Navigating maternity leave in a way that wouldn’t damage career became a ‘nightmare’
- No history of anyone taking maternity leave in a particular department left trainers and colleagues dumbfounded as to how it worked
- A lack of signposting to official policies
- Indistinct documentation that failed to differentiate between guidance and law
- Obstructive process and lack of empathy from supervisor following late pregnancy loss
- Lack of support during adoption process
Overview of statistics:
- 57% felt they did not have clear guidance on maternity leave from the Trust
- 85% stated that information given to them by their trade union was unclear
- 76% said they let down by their trainer
- 69% did not receive sufficient support from their deanery
- 66.2% were not given adequate support by lead clinician or line manager
- 89% called for a standardised information pack that can be accessed online
Consultant oncoplastic breast surgeon and Council member of the Confederation of British Surgery Shireen McKenzie; who spearheaded the study; said:
“It is shocking to hear of the negative experiences and hurdles encountered by hardworking NHS employees when seeking guidance about their parental leave rights. We urge Trusts to view this feedback as an opportunity to evolve - the onus should not be on the individuals to seek guidance, but for the guidance (and legalities) to be provided to the individual as soon as is practicable. Furthermore, we call for clarity when signposting the law and protocols, as well as training to empower line managers and lead clinicians to further support team members.”
The results encompass respondents across almost all areas of surgery including plastics, orthopaedics, ENT, vascular, paediatrics, ophthalmology, oral and maxillofacial, among others.