Greater clarity needed for childcare

by BMA media team

Press release from BMA media team.

Location: England
Published: Wednesday 13 May 2020

The BMA is calling on the government for greater clarity on how childcare services will open following the guidance issued yesterday. The Association also wants better funding and support for childcare providers so that the children of critical workers can more easily have care needed.

While saying childcare providers should plan for re-opening on 1 June, along with schools, the guidance from the government is woefully lacking in detail on how they can operate safely.

Any introduction of more people back into the workplace needs to be gradual. It needs to be very carefully monitored to ensure it does not create a spike in infection rates. Childcare providers need to be confident they have the best guidance and resources to re-open safely and they need more financial support and security so that they can continue to operate with reduced numbers for months to come.

The uncertainty around childcare provision means ongoing problems and anxieties for thousands of healthcare workers. Hundreds of children’s nurseries, childminding services and wrap around care have been closed during the pandemic, meaning many doctors are unable to go to work and provide patient care in the time of national crisis.

Those who do find childcare are often paying much higher fees because of short-notice rota changes and longer shifts.  In normal times it is challenging to get childcare last-minute and during unsocial hours, yet alone now. The later that parents receive their rotas, the more costly their childcare is likely to be or the less likely they will be able to work that shift.

For doctors who are using the childcare available, the BMA is calling for better support in finding childcare and reimbursement of additional childcare costs that doctors are facing while working during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The doctors’ union is calling on government to acknowledge the additional emotional and financial stress many have faced trying to access childcare whilst working during the outbreak.

Dr Helena McKeown, Chair of the BMA Representative Body, said:

‘Doctors are on the front line of the national response to Covid-19. Many are parents, and it’s only right that the government supports them so that they can care for patients, knowing their own children are being safely cared for, reducing additional stress and costs.

‘Inadequate childcare provision is keeping doctors who are fit and able to go to work at home when the NHS needs them more than ever. Difficulties in finding childcare cover and paying for it is taking a toll on our members, and no doubt many other frontline and key workers, and their families at this time of national crisis.  

‘We also have concerns that if early years childcare providers go out of business as a result of the COVID-19 crisis this will have longer term impacts on our members’ work, family lives and potentially widen gender inequalities in the medical profession’. 

In order to tackle these issues, the BMA is calling for a united plan of action between government, local authorities, local NHS organisations and childcare providers to secure childcare provision for NHS staff as a priority. 

The National Day Nurseries Association are supporting the BMA’s call on government to act on doctors’ childcare.

Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of National Day Nurseries Association, who are supporting the call on government to support childcare providers, said:

“Early years providers and their staff are critical workers supporting other key frontline workers like doctors and other emergency staff. Just under half of nurseries told us they are open, including those based in hospitals, delivering the care the key worker staff need. We know from our members that a lot of nurseries which have stayed open during this crisis to support NHS staff are running at a loss, with some losing thousands of pounds a week.

“The Government have announced that nurseries can fully re-open from the beginning of June and that the furlough scheme will run into October but nurseries delivering emergency childcare need support now.

“Most nurseries have told us they cannot access the small business grant of £10,000 and other forms of business support. If they are worried about their long-term future sustainability, they do not want to get themselves into more debt by taking out loans.

“Childcare places for our frontline medical staff along with other critical workers won’t be available if nurseries and other providers aren’t supported to be sustainable.”

Below are case studies of doctors (anonymised) who have faced childcare difficulties during the Covid-10 pandemic.

Doctor 1:

‘Our daughter's nursery initially said they would remain open for keyworkers and then informed us by email at 8.30pm that they would be closing for all from 5.30pm the next day. This led to me and my husband taking time off for childcare supported by my sister who is a locum GP. 

 ‘It took multiple emails and phone calls to various people at our local authority over a number of days to finally speak to someone helpful that gave us details of local nurseries and childminders that were still open.

 ‘We have now managed to find a local childminder but the whole process took two weeks, during which we were still working on calls and swapping shifts to make things work.’

Doctor 2:

‘My main stress during this whole Covid nightmare has honestly been about childcare as both my husband and I are doctors.

‘Our nursery initially said they’d stay open for keyworkers, but within a few days told us they were closing at the end of week one, with no plan for where our children would go. We had no idea how we’d manage with both of us in acute hospital specialties with constantly changing rotas and being asked to cover last-minute whilst colleagues had to self-isolate. We managed to get our child into the hospital nursery which was more expensive than our previous one.

‘My new rota is really tough for making childcare plans as there are loads of “flexi” shifts where you are back up if someone is sick. So you either have to pay for a load of childcare you probably won’t need, or potentially expose your child and family to Covid-19, or hope that they can take her last-minute at nursery if you get called in.

‘All of this is on top of the effect on the poor children. It’s very unsettling for very children to be placed in a new environment with new people looking after her, with very minimal time to “settle in. Our children have had enough changes to their usual routines, as well as parents potentially working more than usual- it really feels like they’ve been let down by this childcare disaster!

‘The government should have realised private nurseries would choose to close if 80% of staff wages were paid after closure - this was clearly going to be the better option financially. They should have made plans for a few nurseries to remain open in each area, and not left it up to poor busy parents to work out what to do, with no notice.’

Ends

 

Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

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