I can’t get the locum cover for maternity leave, what should I do?
I am a GP partner, six months pregnant, and I can’t get the locum cover for maternity leave. Do I have a right to take maternity leave, and if not what should I do to make this easier for my partners, patients and myself?
Dr Amy Small: Acknowledge the difficulty for your partners
This is a stressful scenario and one that I have recently faced. It brings up all sorts of guilt feelings and puts immense pressure on the partnership. I found the best way of dealing with this was to acknowledge how difficult it would be for my partners and try my best to help.
I did my best to recruit locums, putting adverts on Twitter and Facebook and via local groups. I lobbied the Health Board and Scottish Government to reimburse my colleagues (partners and salaried) to do internal locum sessions, which they hadn’t done until now.
I handed patients over to colleagues, splitting them up equally so no one was lumbered with my cohort of regulars. I made sure that I tied up loose ends wherever possible in terms of my QOF areas and enhanced services, and handed over some admin things to ancillary staff rather than clinicians.
As a practice, we wrote leaflets for our patients explaining that I was off on maternity leave and that another colleague was also going off and that we had failed to find a replacement.
We advised patients to think carefully about whether or not someone else could help them ie a dentist, optician or pharmacist. Patients on the whole were very understanding and I hope understand that if they can’t get an appointment, it’s not because we’re lazy.
Whatever your partnership agreement states, is what you ‘have the right’ to take in terms of your leave. But ultimately, you have to put yourself and your family first.
This is a very special time in your life that you won’t get back. Your partners should, and will understand, and if they don’t, you need to think about who you are in a partnership with.
Dr Amy Small is s a GP partner in Edinburgh and a member of the UKGPC
Dr Vicky Blackburn: Find a compromise
As a partner and a mother I am familiar with this conflict in priorities. Essentially as a partner (and not a salaried employee) one you have an obligation to colleagues and patients. You cannot just walk away. But maternity leave is still important for bonding with your child – especially if you then plan to work full- or part-time.
So the key here is compromise. I would offer to come in on a part-time basis or perhaps offer to do some of the paperwork or telephone triage at home if I was unhappy to be face-to-face. A partner for a couple of hours a day is better than nothing.
I would also hope my partners would amend any annual leave so I could then take my ‘maternity’ leave at another time – perhaps offering me paid leave at a time when a locum was available.
Dr Vicky Blackburn is a GP in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
Puja Patel: Maternity leave rights must be agreed with partners
Partners are not bound by employment legislation, and therefore any maternity leave rights must be ‘contractually’ agreed with the other partners.
Firstly, check with your Local Area Team about the extent to which maternity reimbursement may be available from NHS England.
If there is a current and valid partnership deed, check the allowance for maternity leave: duration, liability for any agreed locum appointment at the practice expense, and the default provisions in the event a locum cannot be found.
If there is no valid and current deed in place, or no provisions for maternity leave, consider the ‘custom and practice’ of the partnership as the basis of the ‘agreement’ – namely, the precedent of what has previously been agreed for other GP partners who have had families while working at the practice.
In the absence of any of the above, it will come down to agreement with the other partners and whether they would be willing to cover the absent partner’s sessions (perhaps in return for the current locum rate or an increased share of profits).
And whilst pregnancy is not in itself a ‘sickness’, additional protection may be afforded through discrimination rights under the Equality Act 2010.
Puja Patel is a senior solicitor for health and social care law firm Hempsons with a specialty in partnership issues