On the ground: return to go

by Neil Hallows

A medical royal college’s lack of flexibility meant a doctor faced the prospect of starting her diploma all over again

Location: UK
Published: Friday 30 December 2022

When it comes to persuading a medical royal college to be flexible, it might seem a combination of COVID, pregnancy, and repeated efforts to keep in touch would be enough.

But one trainee was completely rebuffed. The doctor was studying for a diploma commonly undertaken by those in her specialty. By the end of 2019 she had completed the in-person courses and e-learning modules, as well as the knowledge assessment. She was now advised to find a trainer locally to complete the assessments.

Unfortunately, the names on the website were out of date – one of the trainers had retired, and another was not offering training. The following year, the pandemic struck.

The doctor continued her search for training but was advised locally none was available because of the pandemic. She contacted the body responsible for awarding the diploma by phone and email but received no advice or support.

In January 2021, she was told she could have an extension until the following December. But it was of little use. The country was back in lockdown, and there was still no training locally.

In March, she told the college that she was pregnant. She was only able to have the COVID vaccine several months later, once it was deemed to be safe for pregnant women. While she was able to return to face-to-face working for a month before going on maternity leave, had she travelled for her assessments it would have increased her patient exposure, and the risk of contracting COVID, at a late stage of pregnancy.

She needed guidance on what would happen with her diploma. She had made contact in March and was told she would hear back shortly. She chased in June, then November, then December. When she finally heard back, she was told the deadline for the diploma had now passed, she could no longer complete it, and she would have to sign up to a new one, with a new curriculum, and start from scratch. And she would have to
pay the course fees all over again.

Clearly, this was unacceptable. If she had not been pregnant, she would have been given the opportunity to undertake the assessments, but she had been given no alternatives in the circumstances, and this felt like discrimination.

With BMA support, she met three senior figures who were responsible for the course. She was able, at last, to express the difficulties she had faced. They offered her a chance to sign up to the new diploma, waived the entry fee, and told her she did not have to duplicate any of the work she had previously completed for the previous one.

She accepted this, and because she was happy with the outcome, decided not to pursue a claim for indirect discrimination.

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