Pregnant doctors continue to be treated appallingly

by Ruth-Anna MacQueen

The way expectant parents are handled at work must improve drastically

Location: UK
Published: Monday 8 July 2024
pregnant woman ethnic minority

In early 2011, as a heavily pregnant specialty trainee 2 in obs and gynae, I begged to stop night shifts at 36 weeks.

I was told I needed to make an appointment to see my GP who would then decide whether to sign me off nights, then I would need to take the original signed note, in person, to HR. Until then I would need to continue my full-time duties, including nights, during which if we were lucky enough to get any rest, we would sleep on the floor of our office. 

I was a relatively clued-up junior doctor and knew what my rights were on paper but it seems nobody I was working with did, and I was too afraid to challenge the status quo. 

More than 13 years later and now a consultant obstetrician I still hear similar stories on a painfully regular basis. Pregnant doctors being made to jump through totally unnecessary hoops to be granted the most basic accommodations.

Employers seemingly wilfully ignorant of their legal obligations. Doctors threatened with loss of income if their hours or days are altered. Hard-working medical professionals unaware of their rights and loath to rock the boat. The results of the BMA survey illustrated just how badly pregnant doctors are treated by our own profession. 

Even 13 years ago it seemed clear that being a doctor seemed to be a risk factor for adverse pregnancy outcomes and I have seen friends and colleagues suffer painful losses and traumatic pregnancies and births at what felt like far higher rates than the national averages. 

Now we have clear, unequivocal evidence of the negative effect certain working patterns, common in medicine, can have on the health of mother and fetus. Increased rates of miscarriage, pre-term birth, pre-eclampsia, small for gestational age babies, to name a few. 

Doctors typically spend 30 to 40 years working for the NHS. Their time as pregnant or breastfeeding parents is a tiny minority of this; yet how they are treated during this time can have life-changing consequences. It is unconscionable for the current status quo to go on. 

 

Ruth-Anna MacQueen is a consultant obstetrician and Guardian of Safe Working Hours at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust