A bill to establish extended paid leave for parents of premature and sick babies will be introduced to parliament today.
If taken forward, the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill, which has been tabled by SNP MP Stuart McDonald, would introduce a new entitlement for longer paid time off for parents and carers – over and above maternity, paternity and adoption leave – if a baby has had to spend seven or more consecutive days in hospital in their first four weeks of life.
More than 100,000 premature or sick babies are admitted to UK neonatal units each year, with some spending months in hospital.
According to The Smallest Things, a charity that supports parents of premature babies, more than 80% of families’ neonatal journey doesn’t end when their baby leaves hospital. More than half of babies are readmitted and 71% of parents worry about the long-term outcomes for their child.
Parents’ health can also suffer, with the charity claiming that a quarter of parents are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after spending time in a neonatal intensive care unit.
McDonald said that with the cost of living rising it was “more important than ever” that parents get neonatal leave and pay.
“No parent should have to choose between being with their premature or sick baby in neonatal care and having to go back to work to earn a living,” he said.
“We can and must ensure parents of babies in neonatal care get the paid leave and support they need.”
No parent should have to choose between being with their premature or sick baby in neonatal care and having to go back to work to earn a living.
We can and must ensure parents of babies in neonatal care get the paid leave and support they need.https://t.co/fBovbnOd4S
— Stuart McDonald MP (@Stuart_McDonald) June 15, 2022
Catriona Ogilvy, founder of The Smallest Things, said: “This legislation will give families the emotional and financial support they need at a time of great stress and trauma. No parent should be sitting next to an incubator or neonatal cot worrying about work and pay.
“There is currently no allowance for parents of these babies who can spend weeks or
months in hospital before going home. Many parents return to work while their baby is still in
hospital and many mothers spend a significant portion of their maternity leave in the
neonatal unit. Time spent in neonatal care should not be spent as maternity or paternity
Father Matt Wilkinson had two babies, Harry and Sam, who were born at 25 weeks’ gestation. Sadly Sam passed away after 16 days, but Harry spent 107 days in neonatal care, which took up 3.5 months of his wife Sally’s maternity leave.
“If we’d have had additional leave, we’d have been able to savour more time together as a family, come to terms with the loss of Sam and be more prepared for returning to work. Bringing in additional leave and pay will support families all over the country and enable them to focus on those precious moments you never get back,” said Wilkinson.
The government signalled its intention to introduce paid support for parents of premature or sick babies in the 2020 budget. It said it would introduce neonatal leave at a rate of £160 per week for up to 12 weeks.