Premature baby charity Bliss backs new law which would give parents of children in special care paid extra paid leave
Thousands of parents whose new babies need specialist care after will get more paid time off work under new proposals being backed by the government.
The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill proposes allowing parents to each take up to 12 weeks of paid leave from work - in addition to other entitlements such as maternity and paternity leave - so they can spend more time with their baby during what is described in the plans as a 'hugely stressful time'.
Babies born prematurely or unwell will ordinarily be admitted to neonatal care in hospital, sometimes for a long period of time, which can force parents to use existing leave entitlements such as parental leave, unpaid leave or annual leave, in order to be by their baby's or partner's side or they may have to go back to work while their child is still in hospital.
But the new law if passed, which has been introduced by SNP MP Stuart McDonald, will offer neonatal care leave to employees from their first day in a new job and will apply to parents of babies who are admitted into hospital up to the age of 28 days, and who have a continuous stay in hospital of seven full days or more.
With parents facing a huge rise in the cost of living, ministers say the reform will help ease future pressures on families worried about a sick baby, by ensuring they aren’t forced to choose between using unpaid leave or having to continue working.
Business Minister Jane Hunt said: "Having a new-born in neonatal care is an incredibly worrying time for parents. No family should also have to agonise about their return to work, or whether they have enough leave in place.
"By putting our full weight behind this Bill, I hope we can take one concern off the minds of new parents and give them the additional paid time off they need to care for their poorly baby."
Those backing the reforms, which are currently making their way through Parliament, say that mothers of children who have an extended stay in hospital at the start of their lives often find that their 39 weeks of paid maternity leave does not give them enough time with their little one before they need to go back to work.
Similarly, the change in law will also give fathers and partners flexibility to share caring responsibilities by increasing the amount of paid leave they can have past the usual two weeks of paternity leave.
Bliss, the UK's leading charity for babies born premature or sick and their families, says it is fully behind the plans.
Chief executive, Caroline Lee-Davey, said: "We are thrilled that the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill has passed Second Reading in Parliament and has support from the government. This is a huge milestone after years of campaigning and is a significant step towards tens of thousands of parents having paid leave while their baby is critically ill in hospital every year.
"Currently, thousands of parents every year have no choice but to return to work while their baby is in hospital or spend months of their maternity leave next to an incubator. After the progress made today, we are one step closer to giving many parents the much-needed time to be where they need to be - by their baby’s side in hospital.
"We know there is now more to do to continue the Bill’s passage through Parliament, and we look forward to continuing to work with Stuart McDonald MP and the government, and MPs across all parties to ensure that this Bill becomes law as quickly as possible."