‘I have no one to look after my child when he is ill, so occasionally I take time off at short notice. My partners are unhappy with this – how can we resolve the situation?’
LMC member: Talk about it in advance
Whenever any practice member does not turn up to work at short notice, it causes a strain, which can lead to resentment. Partners should have a protocol for emergency leave, so the requirements and expectations are clearly understood. Bear in mind that employees of the practice have a right to take time off to deal with an emergency, including children’s illnesses, and the BMA model contract says ‘relatively short periods of leave for emergencies will be paid’, unless you have specifically highlighted that there’s no requirement for pay at such times. If this is the case, the employee may be asked to take it as unpaid, holiday, or parental leave.
If there are no arrangements with the partners for this kind of leave, you should agree with them how it will be handled – whether you make the time up, deduct it from your leave, pay for a locum or reduce your drawings.
If you reach an impasse with your practice, BMA membership entitles you to advice and assistance. Non-BMA members can ask for guidance from the LMC or seek legal opinion elsewhere.
Partners share the professional and contractual responsibilities of maintaining appropriate services and high standards at the practice, and should also lead by example. So if you regularly find yourself taking time off to tend to your child, members of staff may emulate this.
Ease the situation by agreeing in advance the arrangements around emergency leave, offering to compensate for any time off, apologising to your colleagues, keeping the practice up to date where necessary, and exploring all avenues to find someone else to look after your child. And if you do need to take time off in these circumstances, don’t inform colleagues by text. Personally phone the practice manager and GP on call.
Dr Grant Ingrams is a GP partner in Glenfield, Leicestershire and a member of Leicester, Leicestershire & Rutland LMC, but is writing in a personal capacity
GP appraiser: Think imaginatively
As a GP partner and mum of a 15- and a 16-year-old, I well remember how tough it is when children fall ill. I recommend talking to your partners to explore their concerns, whether in advance or at the time.
I’ve found that the key to success as a sole principal is offering flexibility to my salaried GPs. As an employer, I’m investing in my GP workforce for the long term, and it’s worth appreciating that accommodating eight to 10 years of childcare isn’t that long in a GP’s career. And I believe that GPs who are also parents are an asset to our profession – in my case, becoming a parent and a better doctor were closely tied.
I used to bring my children to the practice when they were ill, which had a positive effect all round, noticeably lifting the team’s spirits. Currently, my GPs can bring their children in when they aren’t well or if their usual childcare options haven’t worked out, thus saving expenditure on locums and avoiding the need to cancel appointments. We operate on a high-trust basis, but other employers might want to consider disclaimers to cover any liability.
If it’s possible to adjust sessions, there are remote working options, such as administering repeat prescriptions and reading hospital letters from home. Telephone triage can also be conducted this way, as long as the right information governance has been offered.
Employees are legally entitled to a reasonable amount of time off to care for dependents, so we need innovative options for working parents. Retaining skilled colleagues is a significant challenge for our profession, and this is best achieved by thinking more imaginatively.
Dr Farzana Hussain is a GP trainer and appraiser in Newham, east London, a member of Newham LMC and a federation board member
GP partner: Explore underlying issues
All partnerships should have both a partnership agreement and absence policy for employees.
Although our partnership agreement has nothing specific about leave to care for a sick child, we have an understanding, as recorded in meeting minutes, that a partner should use their annual leave if they need time off for this. The same applies if a partner needs to arrange care for an elderly parent. This leave can be taken at short notice, regardless of inconvenience to others.
Our flexible triage appointment system adapts to situations like these.
In my six years at the practice, this agreement has never caused problems. In the event of a longer illness requiring extended absence, I hope we would show our partners the support we would wish to receive ourselves.
It is worth noting the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) declaration that ‘all employees have the right to time off in working hours for dependents… to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies’ and that ‘there is no legal right to be paid’. There isn’t a specified reasonable amount of time, as every case will vary.
If a particular staff member was frequently absent to care for dependents, I would sensitively explore any underlying issues and whether the practice could help, and how we could implement this with minimal disruption.
Dr David Coleman is a GP in Conisbrough, South Yorkshire
1 Taking time off for family and dependents. Crown Copyright, n.d.