‘Treated like a machine’ – experts call for miscarriage leave in dentistry

'Treated like a machine' – experts call for miscarriage leave in dentistry

As dental professionals discuss their experiences of returning to work after miscarriage, the British Dental Association (BDA) has called for NHS miscarriage leave to be extended to dentistry.

In March, NHS England announced that 10 days’ paid leave would be available to staff who suffer a miscarriage before 24 weeks of pregnancy. Their partners can also take five days of leave, and those who miscarry after six months would still be offered paid maternity leave.

The BDA ‘strongly welcomed’ this change, saying it was ‘the right call’. However, it also noted that the policy does not currently apply to NHS general dental practitioners. In an open letter to NHS England CEO Amanda Pritchard, the association called for the pregnancy and baby loss policy framework to be extended to the entire dental team.

The letter said: ‘It is vital that NHS dentists are given the same support as other NHS staff through such deeply challenging personal circumstances.’

‘The pressure of it is immense’

Former associate dentist Sarah Bailey shared her own experience with miscarriage. She said: ‘My miscarriage happened when I was around 12 weeks pregnant. I knew I had to go back to work straight away. It was really tough; I remember crying in the toilets at work.

‘Patients knew I was pregnant and were asking me how I was doing. When you have a public-facing job, you have to put your emotions aside and switch on the bubbly persona. But physically, you aren’t in a good place and mentally, your hormones are all over the place. So you think, “I can’t afford to be ill”. There is just no time to start to deal with your grief.

‘You are treated like a machine, you have to keep turning over, and hit your targets. You feel an obligation to the practice, to your patients, and to yourself. The pressure of it is immense, but I just couldn’t afford not to be at work. It pushed me into thinking, hang on a minute, this is not a family-friendly environment. It underlined to me that high street NHS dentistry is not a place where I could build a career.’

Lauren Harrhy and Ellie Heidari are co-chairs of the BDA’s Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. They said: ‘Dentists have told us of the physical and emotional toil caused by lack of support during these circumstances, putting aside grief to keep working, or face financial penalties and even more stress. 

‘NHS England have a chance to ensure that all dedicated NHS clinicians have the support they need, and we will push for them to do the right thing.’

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