Call to help doctors with childcare

by Tim Tonkin

Doctors battling COVID-19 are being forced to take time off owing to a lack of access to childcare, the BMA has warned.

Location: England
Published: Monday 11 May 2020

The association is calling on the Government to expand provision for key workers and to support doctors financially who have had to arrange expensive, last-minute childcare so they can go to work.

It has warned that, in addition to being unable to work, doctors are facing financial pressure and stress at a time when the NHS needs every available member of staff in the efforts to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

BMA representative body chair Helena McKeown said the Government had a responsibility to ensure all doctors able to work could do and had to do more and act swiftly to keep the NHS staffed in face of an unprecedented public health crisis.

She said: ‘Doctors are on the front line of the national response to COVID-19. Many are parents, and it’s only right the Government supports those caring for patients by giving them the financial resources they need to care for their own children.  

‘Inadequate childcare 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 creating additional stress for them and their families at this time of national crisis. 

‘We also have concerns that if 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.’

Family life

With 57 per cent of nurseries and early years services forced to close owing to the pandemic, doctors from across the UK have been contacting the BMA to highlight the extent to which they are struggling to make alternative arrangements. Even with some easing of lock down restrictions, many will not be able to reopen soon because of the lack of overall parental demand and financial support.

A Kent-based specialty trainee 7’s experience – who preferred to remain anonymous – is all too familiar to many trying to balance work and family life.

‘Our daughter's nursery initially said they would remain open for key workers 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. 

‘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,’ the doctor said.

Among the specific provisions being called for by the BMA are:

  • Provide additional financial and logistical support for nurseries and childcare providers to prevent permanent closures
  • Local authorities – collaborate with local NHS bodies and childcare providers to secure sufficient provision for NHS staff
  • Employers – consistency across local policy arrangements so that carers’ leave is fully paid during the outbreak
  • Reimburse additional childcare costs incurred by doctors and medical students working during the outbreak.