Intended for healthcare professionals

Careers

Sharing the caring: doctors and shared parental leave

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i6664 (Published 05 January 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:i6664
  1. Sarah J Stock, senior clinical lecturer in maternal and fetal medicine1,
  2. Andrew Watson, consultant psychiatrist2,
  3. James Gordon-Smith, consultant interventional radiologist2,
  4. Jacqueline Maybin, clinical lecturer and specialist trainee in obstetrics and gynaecology1
  1. 1Medical Research Council Centre for Reproductive Health, University of Edinburgh
  2. 2NHS Lothian
  1. sarah.stock{at}ed.ac.uk

Abstract

The advantages of taking shared parental leave far outweigh the disadvantages, say Sarah Stockand colleagues

In April 2015 the government introduced new flexible leave allowances that made it easier for working parents to share leave after the birth or adoption of their child.

Advantages

The obvious advantage of shared parental leave is that it lets both parents spend time with their children and experience fulltime childcare. It also has demonstrable effects on parental and child health. Time away from work can impact training and experience but sharing leave means that couples can also share any benefits.

Challenges

One major barrier is finances—if you opt for shared parental leave rather than maternity leave in the first six months then you may be worse off. Most female doctors are eligible for occupational maternity pay, which is more generous than statutory shared parental pay (box 1). This means that it often makes sense to use up occupational maternity pay allowance before switching to shared parental leave. However, local policies do vary, so check with your human resources (HR) department.

Box 1: Types of leave for parents working in the NHS

Maternity leave

Mothers must take two weeks of maternity leave—and have the option of a further 50 weeks’ leave—after birth or adoption of child.

If working in the NHS for more than 12 months by 11 weeks’ gestation (or notification of adoption match), mothers are eligible for both occupational and statutory maternity pay, usually 8 weeks’ full pay, then 18 weeks’ half pay and statutory maternity pay,* then 13 weeks’ statutory maternity pay only.*

Maternity support leave

If working for the NHS for more than 12 months, fathers or partners of mothers can take 2 weeks’ leave, within 8 weeks of birth or adoption, with full pay.

Shared parental leave

Up to a maximum of 50 weeks’ leave and 39 weeks’ statutory shared parental pay,* shared between parents in the first year after birth or adoption.

To take shared parental leave the mother must submit a curtailment notice to stop maternity leave and maternity pay.

The allowance of shared parental leave granted takes into account any maternity leave that has already been taken.

Shared parental leave can be taken in up to three blocks—interspersed with periods of work—subject to agreement with employer and with at least 8 weeks’ notice.

Parental leave

Eighteen weeks for each child up to their 18th birthday. This is usually unpaid, but some leave may be paid under local arrangements.

  • * Statutory maternity or shared parental pay is currently £139.58 a week (or 90% of average weekly salary if lower)

The relative inflexibility of rotas and a lack of locum staff may make leave requests difficult to accommodate. Some departments may find it easier to arrange cover for shorter, discontinuous periods of leave.

How to approach shared parental leave

We advise planning ahead and early discussions with line managers and HR—especially if you want discontinuous blocks of leave. You continue to accrue annual leave, so factor this in on your return.

Common concerns at the end of any period of leave include deskilling, a lack of confidence, and concerns about competence. Each parent is entitled to 20 optional shared parental leave in touch (SPLIT) days, in addition to the 10 keeping in touch (KIT) days associated with maternity leave. These can be used for shadowing or attending meetings or courses, and should be paid or claimed back as annual leave. In our experience they were really useful. It is also worth using a day to visit the department and reset passwords or activate accounts before restarting work.

Would you recommend it?

Definitely. The advantages heavily outweigh the disadvantages, both for parents and children. It’s not for everyone, but we are grateful that it was possible for our families.

Footnotes

  • Many thanks to Jennifer Davidson and Ruth Kelly from NHS Lothian Recruitment and Personnel Services, and Carol Harris from NHS Lothian Communications and Public Affairs, for advice on this article.

  • Competing Interests: We have read and understood BMJ’s policy on declaration of interests and declare that we have no competing interests

View Abstract