It's not easy to flex conditions for any front-facing practitioner, but it’s particularly tricky for doctors. Doctors carry the highest clinical risk in the NHS but constitute only 11% of the NHS workforce. Clinical teams have only a handful of doctors – there are community teams of 40 members with just one or two doctors. They often do out-of-hours work, and not every specialty is suited for remote work.
But there are significant benefits to the NHS and patient care in supporting doctor carers. These doctors bring unique and valuable insights to their work because they have seen both sides of the table. They know good clinical care goes beyond a particular treatment. They know the limitations of the system: how compassion fatigue and burnout can creep in among overworked health care professionals, and the importance of a key person holding all the different strands of care in mind. In their role as carers, they have often been that one person, the unofficial care co-ordinator, the one person without whom all the support around the person they care for can collapse. Despite being health care professionals, they know how much they’ve had to advocate in a system that struggles to listen. As clinicians, they know not to give lip service to the patients. Work also gives doctor carers an opportunity to restore their professional identity and contribute meaningfully. Here’s an example of what it can look like when the NHS gets that support right for its staff who are carers:
The Women in Medicine Carers Network has outlined several steps NHS organisations can take to support the wellbeing of all staff – not just doctors – with caring responsibilities:
- Formally recognise working carers as the first step in developing effective formal measures and in creating an organisational culture that is supportive of this workforce.
- Develop carer supportive policies in consultation with working carers – such as carers passport schemes and management training – and become a ‘carer-friendly’ employer.
- Grant opportunities to carers to work flexibly.
- Provide all carers with the right to take appropriate periods of paid carers’ leave, involving both statutory and discretionary paid leave.
- Signpost employees to external sources of information on care and support.
- Offer counselling and mental health wellbeing guidance.