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by Mary Mippins
2 November 2009

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Two things a practice manager doesn’t want to hear …

I don’t know about you, but staff can easily make my blood run cold and cause me sleepless nights when they tell me one of two things:

“I’m pregnant,” or – even worse – “I’m retiring”.

The chair on the front desk appears to have taken on the role of some kind of weird fertility seat, with three receptionists announcing impending motherhood within a few months of each other. Upstairs meanwhile, two long-serving members of the team have declared their intention to retire on their NHS pension.

I can just about cope with maternity pay and maternity rights (amazing how much information a pregnant receptionist can absorb about her paid leave and time off for relaxation classes, while lamenting how forgetful she has become – hence no forms or blood bottles in the doctor’s rooms again).

I can even grit my teeth and ignore the group discussions on morning sickness, swollen ankles and water births, aware that I shouldn’t upset anyone by asking them to answer the phones or deal with the queue that has formed outside the building. It might raise their blood pressure and then they’d go off sick and I would possibly be sued for abuse of human rights.

One member of staff currently on maternity leave called me today to tell me she was pregnant again and would be back on her expected date, but would be off again in exactly five months three weeks and two days. And don’t forget the holidays we will owe her. As if.

I’m all for equality, fair play, equal opportunities and anything else the employment legal eagles care to throw at me, but I don’t do “take your employers for as much as you can get away with and sue them for every penny if they so much as suggest you are in any way taking advantage of being pregnant”.

And if I’m honest, it means I have to cover reception more often – which is probably why I am moaning.

Recently, having been hounded by the NHS Pensions Agency to provide information on when a retiring member of staff changed her hours from full- to part-time and back again, and how many hours she actually worked over several of those years, I was eventually forced to crawl commando-style into the attic and drag down every single archive box we had accumulated over 10 years in order to acquire the elusive data.

Bear in mind the paper records began well before I started at the surgery, and the offending member of staff had been employed in various roles over a period of 21 years.

It is beyond my comprehension why the Pensions Agency does not have that information. After all, we fill in those dreadful SD55 forms every year, don’t we? And why does the number of hours you work really matter anyway? You pay in a sum each month, your employers get stung for another 14% and, hey presto, that’s what you should get at the end of your working life. Easy, really.

I asked the Pensions Supremo what she would have done had I not found the information (which was, of course, in the very last box I looked through).

“That’s between you and the retiring employee to negotiate.”

So, I was right. It doesn’t really matter because they have no idea, the member of staff wouldn’t have a clue either, and I could have lied through my teeth and got away with it, which would have saved me three anxious days in the attic. (Mind you, it’s quite cosy up there, and very, very quiet.)

I think I shall sneak up there again very shortly and plan my next move. I am of an age when I can neither get pregnant nor retire so, yes, I’m a bit miffed. However, if I play my cards right, I could apply for exceptional funding to have a baby when I get to 60, take extended maternity leave, go off sick while on it, and then retire. Oh, and don’t forget the holiday pay.

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

“How I empathise, just had two receptionists and one nurse practitioner on mat leave, one receptionist back after 12 months leave being three months pregnant, the nurse practitioner, due back July, has informed me she is pregnant with twins and will not be able to return in July, but what holiday entitlement has she accrued, and a practice nurse who has been off sick for longer spells than she is in has decided to resign. Is the sun fading my hair or is it going grey?” – Bernadette McLennan, Liverpool

“Ah, it is strangely comforting to hear other people have the same challenges as me. Between pregnant employees, the NHS Choice exercise (in which we don’t seem to get any choice about providing data for!) and having so many part-time staff, I now have a colour-coded spreadsheet to help me work out who is here on what day, it’s a wonder I have time to do any work at all!!!!” – Claire Deare, Leicestershire