On the ground: unpaid leave

by Neil Hallows

Time off work was vitally important for one doctor

Location: UK
Published: Wednesday 18 October 2023
Detail of people in business attire sat at a meeting desk holding pens

John Lennon said: ‘Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.’

This is rarely more apposite than when it comes to caring responsibilities. However hard we try to plan for them, there is always a hefty element of unpredictability.

A consultant had been granted six months’ unpaid leave by her NHS employer to help her parents relocate, to reinstate support workers, to clear their house, and to ensure their healthcare needs continued to be met. All while being a single parent herself.

The six months were vital, but she needed longer. She had an off-the-record conversation with her departmental lead but was told it would not be possible because of service needs and locum cover coming to an end. 

The consultant could understand the situation from her managers’ point of view, but they needed to understand it from hers.

So, she involved the BMA and, with an employment adviser, attended a meeting with her clinical lead and a senior HR representative. 

In the member’s words, the adviser’s ‘empathy, confidence, knowledge base and sheer diplomacy meant that I was able to de-escalate a tense situation despite having brought the big guns! Everyone in the room felt better for having met him’.

The result was a six-month extension to her career break, in which she not only settled her parents but arranged a new school for her daughter and supported her sister through a difficult pregnancy. She also used the time to think about her work-life balance. She then returned to a job plan of approximately 85 per cent rather than full time. 

She reflects: ‘Workload is manageable, colleagues are really supportive. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to get the break, to stand back and reassess everything. It really changed my life.’

This column is about the cases the BMA wins for its members, but in this case it’s a win for everyone. So many doctors are needlessly burnt out by the impossible balancing act between their demanding jobs and their wider commitments. In this case, the doctor says: ‘I actually enjoy coming to work again.’


On the ground is a regular column highlighting practical help given to BMA members in difficulty. 


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