On the ground: maternity requests

A pregnant junior doctor suffered from an appalling lack of support at work

Location: UK
Published: Friday 12 November 2021

Frequently in the health service, we are left asking who cares for the carers. Rarely is this better illustrated than in the harrowing experience of a junior doctor who received an appalling lack of support at work.

Having become pregnant, she told her manager that she did not feel comfortable working three consecutive 12-hour on-calls during a weekend in a very demanding specialty, and instead asked to work two of them, with a day off in between to recover. Not only was this refused, but the risk assessment that should have been carried out for all pregnant employees was not done.

On the third of the three on-calls, she began bleeding, and soon after, she miscarried.

And then it happened again.

A year later, with the same employer but in a different department, the doctor told her manager she was pregnant, and requested an occupational health referral given that it was a high-risk pregnancy.

All the manager had to do was complete a form, but the referral was never made. Nor was a risk assessment. Believing the referral was on the way, the doctor continued with her rostered on-calls, and on the third 12-hour shift of the week, began to bleed, and once again she miscarried.

The doctor contacted the BMA for help in pursuing a grievance. She was very distressed, and it was traumatic to be reliving what had happened, especially as she found out while her case was progressing that she was pregnant again.

The BMA adviser said she would liaise with the employer on her behalf to take on as much of the burden as possible, and the doctor was also referred to the BMA wellbeing support service.

To add insult to injury, the doctor was not being paid enough. She had not been taken off sick leave, despite emailing a copy of the relevant certification to her manager, and she was reduced to half pay. She was forced to take annual leave to boost her sick pay.

The BMA adviser was there for her at every stage. She helped review the draft grievance before it was submitted, and represented her at meetings with the trust.

Usually, the person making the grievance would attend the investigation and outcome meetings with the employer, but because of the sensitive nature of the case, it was agreed that she could respond in writing and the adviser would liaise on her behalf. 

Her grievance was upheld. Her pay was restored to full for the time she was off sick, and she was compensated for the annual leave she had to take.

On how she was treated while pregnant, the BMA would have supported the member through an employment tribunal with a discrimination claim, but a financial settlement was agreed through the conciliation service ACAS.

The employer also committed to follow the recommendations which came out of the process, including better oversight and help for pregnant trainees, the need for managers to ensure prompt access to occupational health appointments, and a systematic process for managing rotas. The BMA is ensuring the employer keeps its promises.

So, a positive ending. More positive still is the fact that the doctor had a healthy baby boy, a few months later.

To talk to a BMA adviser about work-related issues, contact us.

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