Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Who Cares for the Carers?

Have just been reading the new regulations of the Work and Families Act 2006 that came into force on April 1st. This is a wonderful regulation, that at last recognises that pregnant workers cannot be discriminated against and that certain criteria have to be met in order to make working life for pregnant women tolerable.

Unfortunately, I could not help but feeling ever so slightly cynical that any of these criteria could be successfully implemented in the maternity unit ( or any maternity unit for that matter) where I work. For example, stress levels should be reduced, not a chance on a busy delivery suite or postnatal ward with competing demands. I can just see it now. The pregnant midwife who is 32 weeks pregnant asking for a sit down because she feels stressed or tired – or having a meal break or drink or trip to the toilet. This doesn’t happen for any midwife let alone a pregnant one. The regulations suggest that a risk assessment is carried out to assess for things like night working, heavy lifting, standing for prolonged periods or working with chemicals. All this is can be part of midwife’s daily working life – how can these risks be safely addressed and enable the midwife to carry on with her duties?

Midwives belong to a profession that is heavily involved with caring for others and ensuring the women’s needs are met and then some. The profession cannot even manage sickness and absence compassionately and views every episode of sickness or absence no matter how genuine as people making up stories in order to have time off work! And, worse, bullying people to return to work before they are ready, then guess what, they go off sick again because they catch something else, then before they know where they are, they have had 3 episodes of sickness in a 6 month period – this then results in a disciplinary action being taken out against them – what madness – then people wonder why it is difficult to recruit and retain midwives into the NHS. Why would they want to work until they drop for an employer that treats them in such a Dickensian fashion with not a word of comfort or wishes of a speedy recover or in times of bereavement, a condolence or two. Ah well, I suppose 3 days compassionate leave is a long time to have off to grieve the death of a parent.

I have been on the receiving end of the mad sickness and absence policy having picked up a nasty infection, which my GP assures me I have caught from the hospital and I have been constantly hassled as to when I will be going back to work but no voice of concern has been expressed as to how I am getting on – for all ‘they’ know, I could have some life threatening condition but all ‘they’ are concerned about is me going back to be part of the work force that is severely depleted because of short sightedness on part of the management decisions made last year.

The new regulations for pregnancy suggest that pregnancy should not jeopardise any promotion for women – I sure as hell know that sickness and absence influences managements decisions about promoting midwives even though they may have more than the right skills and attributes for the position. Midwives need the same care and compassion that they give freely to the women they serve if the profession is to flourish and grow.

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