Dentists taking maternity leave have found themselves disadvantaged by how the government has calculated the financial supports designed to mitigate against COVID-19 disruption. We've been working to target this unfairness and fighting for resolutions across the UK, as well as supporting these dentists who were effectively being penalised for having children.
We've seen some success in Scotland and Northern Ireland in particular, as we seek to support all members who have been affected during this stressful time.
Securing fair payments in Northern Ireland
It's no secret that the current Financial Support Scheme (FSS) in Northern Ireland is far from perfect.
"[This] systemically discriminated against dentists on maternity leave."
However, until recently it was particularly unfair on women who had taken maternity leave during the reference period used to calculate payments. We argued that this unintended flaw effectively systemically discriminated against dentists on maternity leave, and should be changed for all dentists.
Anne Dunn was one of the dentists who had been impacted by the flawed criteria. She spent most of the reference period 2019 on maternity leave, so as a result, received minimal payments when the FSS began in April 2020. Appealing based on exceptional circumstances did not resolve the issue, and so she reached out to the BDA, local Members of the Legislative Assembly (NI), and the Equality Commission.
Anne campaigned to have the year before her maternity leave used as the reference for FSS payments for six months. After a direct challenge on her behalf by MLAs to the Health Department, she ultimately won the case and her support payments were significantly increased. While this was progress, the flawed system remained unchanged.
Last month, following a campaign backed by the BDA, the fight for fair payments was finally won for all dentists impacted by this issue in Northern Ireland. Thirty-eight dentists will now have seen their FSS payments adjusted. Using non-abated figures to calculate maternity leave payments has been made blanket policy. It took time, but this was a real win for fairness in a flawed system.
Fighting for reform in Scotland
Dentists on maternity leave have experienced similar difficulties in Scotland. The BDA campaigned for fairness here too, both in writing and repeatedly in meetings with the CDO and Scottish Government. So, we were cautiously optimistic when the Scottish Government announced last month that changes would be made to the calculation of maternity, paternity, and adoptive leave payments, as well as to long-term sickness payments.
We'd been clear that the system of using a chosen test period was clearly disadvantaging these groups. The new arrangement does away with any test period and instead applies flat-rate payments depending on WTE hours and NHS commitment levels. Unfortunately, this is not a complete fix. While this new system benefits some dentists, we have collated examples of how it negatively impacts others which have been presented to the Scottish Government to address.
"[Some have been] left worse off by the proposed new payment system."
Members of a Scottish dental pregnancy group for instance raised concerns about being left worse off by the proposed new payment system. We put these concerns to Government, who have have replied this week with further details of the new payment scheme. We will consider these and continue to campaign on behalf of dentists who are left financially worse off by the changes
The unfair consequences of these systems for new and expectant parents have been significant. Our teams worked hard to help tackle this unfairness, but the situation has undoubtedly caused an enormous amount of stress during what should be a happy and hopeful time. We are committed to continuing to fight for fair treatment and fair remuneration for all dentists. We're also providing support for dentists experiencing stress, through
our 24/7 counselling service, if you're under stress or are struggling, please reach out.
BDA Board Member
Chair BDA Education, Ethics and the Dental Team Working Group