In this episode, we're delighted to welcome to The Fertility Podcast Kate Jarman who is the Director of Corporate Affairs at Milton Keynes University Hospital. Kate is also the co-founder of the Flex NHS along with her colleague Aasha Cowey. Kate and Aasha campaign for flexible working for all and better working lives in the NHS. We really wanted to chat with Kate as we’ve heard from so many of you, who work in the NHS, about the difficulties you face in juggling your work and your fertility treatments.
What is Flex NHS?
Launched in November 2018 as Kate and Aasha felt there was a lot more that they could do to get equity and parity with flexible working for everybody working in the NHS. There are 1.3 million NHS employees who don’t have a lot of agency over their own time and diaries but may need flexibility for various issues. They’ve spent the last 3 years trying to amplify the voices of those staff who need flexibility in their lives.
How is an organization that is so centered on a positive patient experience not reflecting this in their employee experience?
Kate says that she feels many parts of the NHS do embrace flexibility but in different ways. There are huge challenges and there is no consistency across the organization. She feels, particularly as many people stay working in the NHS for their whole career, that employees need flexibility at different times of their lives for various differing reasons. This has to be two-way, there's a lot of work that we need to do with managers to enable them to feel empowered themselves to have those conversations about flexible working with their employers.
Is change happening quickly enough?
Kate says that the pace of change is always an issue, and she would like to see things change faster. However, NHS England's People Plan has made flexibility from day 1 employment a contractual right. This came into effect in the middle of September this year and means you can take a job and you're entitled to flexibility from day 1. Kate feels that there does still exist a moral bar around flexible working and how we value people's time and a lot of judgment that goes into flexible working requests. By giving managers the information they need about flexible working and enabling them to feel empowered around making positive flexible working decisions will help improve this.
Is the perception of part-time jobs being available correct?
96% of jobs advertised within the NHS are for full-time positions. Kate explains that there is a stigma surrounding flexible working, probably without us realizing it, and this often stops people from asking about flexible working at the recruitment stage. Kate discusses how she sees the NHS England’s People Plan to work in the context of women’s health and fertility. Kate feels that this needs to be supported by really good health and wellbeing policies that are understandable and accessible. She feels that currently, the NHS does too much work in isolation and as a workforce that is 78% women, we need to bring the issues that predominantly impact women to the fore and prioritize them as part of our work.
Importance of retention
This is a huge challenge for the NHS and we wanted to know Kate’s thoughts on how the NHS can go about retaining women in employment. She mentioned the importance of the manager taking a more active role in checking in on employees, rather than waiting for the employee to come to them with an issue. Kate mentions that there is already some great work being done to support women’s health issues, particularly menopause, through their unions, network groups, and individual champions – often off the back of their own experience. Natalie mentions that not all people going through a fertility journey will want to be an educator and that’s where the Fertility Matters at Work initiative can step in and help.
Advice for NHS workers
Kate recommends that you find out about your employment rights and your organizational policies. Talk to your HR department and manager but also find out about your peer support and network groups to find your advocate.