Families do not all look the same, or work in the same way; it is vital to give new and growing families the flexibility to organise parental leave around the birth or adoption of a child in the way that is best for them.
Previously, it was difficult for junior doctors to access shared parental leave, as eligibility rules mandated a certain period of time working for one employer.
Junior doctors on rotational training schemes, going from one trust to the next, would have that clock reset, and therefore would only rarely have the luck to work in one place for long enough to be eligible for shared parental leave.
In April 2019, the BMA secured an agreement with the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS Employers that junior doctors would be able to access the occupation shared parental leave provisions that were being introduced into the NHS Staff Handbook – immediately giving junior doctors in training grades more options when planning their leave.
In addition, we agreed that it would be continuous employment within the NHS, not with one NHS trust, that would be counted when assessing eligibility for leave and pay for new parents.
So – what is shared parental leave and how does it work? Previously, after the birth or adoption of a child, there was only certain amount of statutory leave that may be taken by the supporting parent.
The birth mother or primary adopter has the right to 52 weeks of leave, and the other parent to two weeks of new parent support leave (often known as paternity pay).
Now, however, as a result of shared parental leave, 50 weeks of this leave this can be divided out in a variety of ways and shared between the two partners (the mother must take two weeks of leave after the birth of a child, and this cannot be shared; also, the two weeks’ new parent support (aka paternity) leave does not count towards the shareable total, so use it or lose it!)
The mother or primary adopter must agree to stop their maternity/adoption leave in order to access shared parental leave.
Shared parental leave can then be taken by either one of the parents, or both; in one block, or up to three blocks each.
If the mother / primary adopter gives ‘binding notice’ (with a date that cannot usually be changed) of the date at which they will end their maternity/adoption leave, both parents can take this leave at the same time – so under one scenario, both parents could be off together for six months.
It doesn’t need to be continuous, you can go back to work then return to leave, you can take it in turns, but it all needs to be taken in the 52 weeks following the birth or adoption. You do need to give sufficient notice (eight weeks) to your employer of when you want to take this leave.
Pay is organised the same way as maternity pay for NHS employees (depending on eligibility): eight weeks’ full pay (including the two mandatory weeks for the birth mother, so 6 of these weeks may be shared if desired), then 18 weeks’ half pay plus statutory maternity / shared parental pay, then 13 weeks of statutory pay only, then 13 weeks unpaid.
There is only one ‘lot’ of pay, and the weeks of pay can be shared between the parents (meaning that you can adjust who is on leave when, or who gets which weeks of pay if you are both off at the same time, in order to manage your finances). The NHS Employers’ website has some useful scenarios to illustrate how this works.
I am really pleased that junior doctors now have this option, allowing us more choice in organising those first few months after a new birth or adoption, tailoring our leave depending on the support that the new parents and child need or want, managing our finances and also our careers more flexibly, and incredibly proud of the team who secured this great improvement to our terms and conditions of service, as well as of the pioneering junior doctors who have been using shared parental leave to build their own partnerships as parents.
Here are some important references and additional reading material around shared parental leave:
Read through the information about shared parental leave and pay on the Government website, to understand what it is, how it works, how it is paid and to check whether you and your partner may be eligible (remember to check eligibility for both partners).
The 2016 terms and conditions of service for junior doctors references the NHS Agenda for Change staff handbook in some parts; this means that most of our terms and conditions are separate, but for certain specified things, you share your terms and conditions with Agenda for Change staff. These things include maternity/paternity / shared parental leave – so read through the relevant section of the handbook.
Maddy Fogarty Hover is a specialty trainee 5 in paediatrics in East Yorkshire and deputy chair of the Yorkshire regional junior doctors committee