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A user's guide to maternity leave during your VTS

Calculating your maternity entitlement can be a pain – newly-delivered Dr Deryn Evans shows you how to take the labour out of this element of childbirth

Imagine the shock when I realised that not only was I facing the prospect of returning to work on the VTS after two years off and trying to organise childcare for my two-year-old daughter, but I was also expecting twins!

As if this wasn't enough, I had to learn a whole new language of maternity leave jargon, listen to endless piped music while attempting to contact payroll and harass my consultant three times for his precious signature, not to mention the expanding waistline, constant reflux and nausea.

Having experienced myself the distinct lack of information and guidance regarding maternity leave application while you are on the VTS, I hope this guide from someone who has recently 'been there' will smooth the experience for those of you in a similar situation.

Who needs to be informed, when?

As soon as you feel comfortable doing so, inform your VTS course organisers, the deanery and the practice or hospital – both the department you are currently working in and medical staffing/human resources.

Hopefully at this point medical staffing/ HR will give you more information, for example a maternity leave information pack. I would also consider informing payroll and checking what they will require from you.

Maternity leave jargon

The next challenge will be learning the jargon – which all seems to be more complicated that it needs to be. Here is a translation of common terms:

• EWC (expected week of childbirth) = the week your baby is due starting the Sunday prior to due date

• ADC (actual date of childbirth) = one of the few terms that requires no translation

• Qualifying week is 15 weeks prior to your EWC = 25 weeks of pregnancy

• Continuous service = service with one or more NHS employer, including PCTs, by 11 weeks before your EWC (that is 29 weeks of pregnancy) with no break in service longer than three months

• SMP (statutory maternity pay) = an

allowance paid by the benefits agency through your employing trust

• OMP (occupational maternity pay) =

additional pay to eligible staff

Maternity leave entitlement

Once you have mastered these terms you will find establishing your maternity leave entitlement a little easier. It is dependent on the length of continuous service, regardless of whether you work full- or part-time.

All service is counted up until the qualifying week (25 weeks of pregnancy). You will also have to submit a MATB1 form which confirms you are actually pregnant and can only be issued after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Your midwife, GP or obstetrician can provide this.

If you have 0-25 weeks' unbroken service with your current employer but less than one year's continuous service in the NHS, you are entitled to 26 weeks unpaid leave. You should get a SMP1 form from payroll as you may be able to claim SMP from your local DSS. You retain the right to return to work at the end of your 26 weeks.

If you have 26 weeks-one year of continuous service with your current employer but less than one year's continuous service within the NHS, you are entitled to 26 weeks of paid leave consisting of six weeks SMP @ 90 per cent of your average weekly earnings and then 20 weeks @ £108.85 a week. You can also have a further 26 weeks of unpaid leave.

If you have at least 26 weeks' service with your current employer and at least a year's continuous service in the NHS, you can claim OMP for your 26 weeks of paid leave. This consists of weeks one to eight on full pay, weeks nine to 22 on half pay plus SMP and weeks 23-26 on SMP at £108.85. You are entitled to a further optional 26 weeks of unpaid leave.

Finally if you have worked for more than a year in the NHS but less than 26 weeks with your current employer, you are entitled to weeks one-eight full pay OMP and weeks nine to 22 at half OMP followed by the option of 30 weeks' unpaid leave.

If you are eligible for OMP you must return for at least three months after the leave or you will have to pay the money back.

Commencing maternity leave

You can start maternity leave any time after 29 weeks of pregnancy. If your childbirth occurs prior to this your maternity leave is commenced then. However, if your child remains in hospital you can split your leave – the two weeks after birth are compulsory, but you can then return to work until your child is discharged.

If you are unfortunate enough to have a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy you are still entitled to full maternity leave.

Sick leave

Any certified absence prior to the date at which maternity leave is due to commence is treated and paid as normal sick leave. If, however, sick leave is taken after 36 weeks of pregnancy you are obliged to commence your maternity leave then. Odd days of pregnancy-related illness can be disregarded.

Health and safety issues

Some trusts require you to undergo a risk assessment with your manager that will highlight any particular hazards within the working environment. Your employer has a responsibility to protect you and your unborn baby – this can include decreasing hours worked, especially on call. You also have a legal responsibility to ensure your own safety.

Antenatal care

You are entitled to paid time off for antenatal care – including relaxation classes!

Returning to work

If you are on a rotation your employer is obliged to hold the post open and you can return to that post or the next planned post, even if your rotation is due to end during your maternity leave.

Best time to get pregnant?

If you want to maximise your maternity pay then ensure you have worked for at least six months with your current employer by 29 weeks of pregnancy and have at least one year's continuous service in the NHS. When it comes to working hours, the more structured hours of the registrar year may be easier to manage while pregnant than the demanding weeks of nights that can be encountered during SHO years.

Also the physical demands of running around a hospital can be exhausting while pregnant. But the registrar year involves continuous assessment which could be difficult while pregnant.

Due to funding, flexible training posts have been cut so part-time options are limited. I have been informed I can do my registrar year part time – we'll see what happens!

What happens after your leave?

It is important to consider the reality of finishing your training while juggling childcare and being a mum! You need to have a flexible partner or childcare arrangements, especially when on call.

Weeks of nights suddenly have added complications. Nursery is one option, but hours are more rigid and it is pretty hard to escape on time every day. We have opted for the more expensive but more flexible option of a nanny.

In April the law will be changing to allow women to take nine months' paid maternity leave. Check with your HR department on how it will affect you later this year.

Deryn Evans is on the VTS in Cambridgeshire and has just had twin boys

Key points

• Inform the relevant parties as soon as you feel it is appropriate

• Complete and submit a maternity leave application form

• Obtain a MATB1 form from your GP/midwife/antenatal clinic after 20 weeks of pregnancy

• A risk assessment may need to be performed (discuss with occupational health/medical staffing)

• Be aware of your entitlement to antenatal care, including relaxation classes

• Consider your options following maternity leave

• Get as much rest as possible – life changes beyond all recognition once your baby is here!

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