I have been involved in delivering two virtual workshops on parental leave in the past two weeks with the BMA and the education, training and workforce policy group of GPCUK.
These were on the back of many months of work to collate information around maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental leave for GPs, and to formulate it into a single parental leave guide.
Questions around maternity and parental leave are some of the most frequently asked of the BMA by GPs. We understand that many GPs and their employers often are unaware of what entitlements exist, and this is an area that often leads to disputes.
Additionally, female GPs in their 30s are among the highest group leaving general practice, which likely coincides with the time of becoming a mother.
So, we knew that we had to do something to better support parents, and their employers, to help them navigate this tricky time. By putting signposts to all the information around parental leave clearly in one place we hope that this is now something that will be easier to understand and will prevent some of the common pitfalls.
This focused on talking through the guide; from the things you need to consider before having a child to the return to work as a parent and how to juggle your new responsibilities, as well as how to manage those (all too common) childcare crises.
For example, many people are unaware that during pregnancy employers need to undertake a risk assessment for women to ensure that their working environment is safe.
This is particularly important during the COVID pandemic when women should not see patients face-to-face after 28/40 gestation. Other important employer obligations include ensuring clean, safe, private rest facilities for breastfeeding women when they return to work so they can feed, or express and store milk.
We also covered the financial entitlements for salaried, locum and partner GPs and how to go about claiming them. The situation is very different depending on your contractual status so it is worthwhile being aware of what you may or may not be entitled to before planning a pregnancy.
An exciting recent change is the entitlement for salaried GPs to take shared parental leave. This enables them to split their leave between themselves and their partners. This will hopefully contribute to a reduction in the gender pay gap between male and female GPs, as well as providing more flexibility around how to care for children during that first year of life.
When returning from leave it’s also important to think about how you wish to work going forwards. That might mean applying formally for flexible working, or it might mean considering if the GP retention scheme is a good option for you.
There are so many ways to approach parenthood and working as a GP now and hopefully, this guide and the webinars outline those options for you.
Karthiga Gengatharan, of Surrey and Sussex LMCs, delved deeper into the intricacies of finances for GPs taking parental leave and how this might affect employed and self-employed GPs differently.
Paula Wright of the sessional committee GPCUK spoke on appraisal and how to deal with this around the time of maternity/parental/adoption leave.
She advised undertaking discussions with your appraiser and responsible officer as soon as you know you will be going on leave.
That way you can decide with them whether it is best to have an early, late or approved missed appraisal. We also went over some top tips to help ensure that your time away from work and your return are as successful as possible.
Sarah Westerbeek is a member of the GPs committee executive team