On the ground: quarantine relief

An employer’s lack of flexibility with leave entitlements has highlighted the need for compassion with staff whose family may live thousands of miles away

Location: International
Published: Friday 17 September 2021
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A junior doctor was desperate to visit her family in south Asia. A close family member was very seriously ill, and there had been no chance to visit since before the pandemic.

One of the main problems was quarantine. Anyone visiting would need to quarantine for two weeks in the Asian country, and then for a similar period on returning to the UK. So, any leave would need to be four weeks, plus a meaningful amount of time to acclimatise, travel and spend time with family. 

The doctor applied for seven weeks’ leave. The trust’s policy seemed to allow a good deal of flexibility, specifically referring to destinations which required double quarantine and suggesting ways in which the time could be made up, such as unpaid leave.

While annual leave requests could be rejected for operational or service reasons, there was at least a framework in which to work. However, the doctor’s service said it had its own local policy which only allowed for two weeks’ maximum leave.

It could not provide the trust policy to the doctor. Fortunately, she had the support of a BMA employment adviser. First, the adviser contacted the service manager, who refused to budge, so she took it up with HR, making the argument that the leave was there to be taken, that there were strong compassionate grounds, and that the trust’s own policy at least required proper consideration.

It took a month, during which time the trust slowly increased its offer until it finally came up with five weeks’ annual leave and two weeks unpaid. The doctor by this point was stressed, as it was only a few days before she was due to fly.

As well as benefiting from the insight and persistence of the BMA employment adviser, the doctor was also supported by her consultant and training programme director, who said the gaps in service could be filled in the circumstances.

The pressures on doctors with family commitments thousands of miles away has never been greater. Another doctor, a consultant originally from India, recently wrote a blog for the BMA where she asked: ‘Where do the boundaries lie for me and others between love and duty to my work as a doctor, to the NHS which is overburdened right now, and to the love for my family, in my motherland?’

Thousands of NHS doctors have family overseas and it is vital the NHS supports them and responds to requests with sensitivity and compassion. With the BMA’s help, this doctor was able to write to the adviser a few weeks later to thank her and speak of her relief at being able to see her family.

The story so far