Doctors’ leaders have welcomed guidance to ensure that people are not turned away from vaccination centres because they attend with dependent children – and have called for it to be publicised more widely.
The BMA sought clarification after a junior doctor on maternity leave was refused entry at a hospital vaccination site because she was carrying her three-month-old baby. Senior doctors have warned that the issue will only become more pressing as younger people – who are more likely to have young children – are called for vaccination.
The junior doctor had attended the appointment for her second vaccine dose in the north west of England with the baby asleep in a sling, dressed so that her arm could be exposed without disturbing the baby, explained Latifa Patel, a paediatric trainee in the region and deputy chair of the BMA representative body.
‘She was stopped at the door by a woman who told her she couldn’t enter the tent with her baby because no children were allowed,’ Dr Patel said. ‘She had no carer support and her husband, who is also a doctor, was at work, couldn’t get time off at short notice. Plus, the centre closed at 4.30pm.
‘She was told that she could stand in the queue with her baby, but that she would have to hand the child to someone else before she went inside – and that she could be inside without her baby for 25 minutes.
‘She was shocked, surprised and very upset. Her husband rang later and asked about their breastfeeding policy, and they said they didn’t have one.
‘This is happening at a time when we want to get as many people vaccinated as possible, and also at a time when people in their 40s, 30s and 20s will start to receive invitations for vaccination. Why should it be that an adult who requires support can bring someone with them, but parents who don’t have childcare support, or who are exclusively breastfeeding, can’t bring their babies with them?’
The doctor contacted Dr Patel, who raised it on her behalf with the BMA.
‘[BMA GPs committee chair] Richard Vautrey, along with others in the GPC England team, has been in regular dialogue with the vaccination team of NHSEI [NHS England and NHS Improvement] to address many of the issues highlighted by GPs and vaccination centres, and as a result they have released guidance making it clear that parents with dependent children should not be turned away,’ Dr Patel added.
‘In addition, following our intervention, the centre manager called the doctor the next day and apologised. They arranged another appointment and said her baby was welcome and that she could breastfeed on site if necessary.’
Dr Patel said it was discriminatory to breastfeeding parents not to allow babies to attend appointments. ‘This doctor had to travel for about half an hour to get to the hospital, spend around 25 minutes inside, plus whatever time she had to spend in the queue, then drive back for another half hour. She’s exclusively breastfeeding – that’s a long time to leave your baby hungry.’
NHSEI has published guidance (under ‘Shared learning – denying access to treatment/intervention’) that recognises that parents may need to bring dependent children to vaccination appointments.
The guidance says: ‘Colleagues are reminded that reasonable adjustments can be made for people in such circumstances, and every effort should be made to ensure that individuals can receive their vaccine at the appointed time.’ It adds that denying treatment or an intervention for any reason must be a clinical decision, and made by the most senior clinician on duty at the time. ‘As cohorts move to younger populations, it is more likely that adjustments will need to be made to ensure no-one is disadvantaged because they have dependents with them.’
Dr Patel said the NHSEI guidance should be widely publicised – and added that she personally knew of other cases where breastfeeding mothers had been denied the vaccine. ‘Another doctor in a similar situation went with her baby – again, asleep – and as she tried to enter the centre, they wouldn’t let her in.
‘She felt intimidated and cried and said there was no way she could do anything different because she didn’t have any carers for her child. Again, her husband couldn’t get time off work at short notice, and the centre closed at 4.30pm. The centre has since apologised to her since Dr Vautrey raised it with NHSEI.
‘If we want people to be vaccinated – and we do – then we have to stop discriminating against parents with children.’
Dr Patel said that any BMA member who experienced anything similar should contact the union. ‘The BMA is always there for you, and we also have a number for anyone requiring emergency COVID-related support [0300 123 1233]. As this situation shows, we can act quickly – and effectively.’