Neonatal Leave & Pay – Consultation

The wonderful charity The Smallest Things has been campaigning for neonatal leave and pay for NICU parents since 2015. Founder Catriona Ogilvy has made fantastic progress advocating for NICU parents and securing parliamentary debate on this important topic.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (UK government department responsible for employment rights) have published government proposals for new employment rights to support parents of babies requiring neonatal care. The Government wants to consider the option of providing Neonatal Leave and Pay. This would be an entitlement to be absent from work to care for the baby, so that, as far as possible, parents have additional time at home with their child to compensate for the time their child was in hospital after birth.

These proposals would provide a huge benefit for parents of NICU babies who often feel that they have missed out on quality time to bond with their babies once they return home. It is also incredibly difficult for parents to return to work as planned following a NICU stay. I had intended to return to work at around nine months, mainly for financial reasons to avoid nil pay. I decided to take a period of unpaid leave to enable L to reach his corrected age of 1 before I returned to work. Despite this, he was still vulnerable at this age and rapidly lost weight once he started nursery.

Please consider responding to the consultation – which closes today (11 October) to share your views on neonatal leave and pay. The consultation can be accessed at the BEIS Consultation Hub.  The corresponding consultation document provides the context for the proposals and The Smallest Things has produced a helpful guide to their response.

I have responded in support of the proposals. The first question includes a list of those who should be eligible for neonatal leave and pay. The proposed list includes:

• The mother of the baby or babies;
• The father of the baby or babies;
• The mother’s spouse; civil partner or a partner who will be living with the mother and
baby that is in neonatal care in an enduring family relationship;
• The intended parents in a surrogacy arrangement (where they are eligible for and intend to apply for a Parental Order);
• The intended parents in cases of adoption, where the intention was that the baby or
babies would be placed with the individuals that they have been matched with at birth or shortly after birth

I have posted previously about the struggles that single parents experience in the NICU and believe that this should be recognised (if possible) in this entitlement. For single mothers recovering from a traumatic birth, the role of a grandparent or other significant person is often crucial to their recovery and support to the baby. In many cases, it is likely that this person will often take on a secondary carer role to the child in the absence of a father. I have provided the following response to request that the status of single parents is taken into consideration:

Whilst I agree with the sentiment of the defined individuals, this does not recognise the role of secondary carers – often grandparents – who support single parents in the NICU.

I had my son at 30 weeks and he remained in NICU for six weeks. As a single mother, my mother provided support and care to myself as I recovered from my son’s traumatic birth and my emergency c-section.

My mother was recognised by the NICU as my ‘partner’ and had the same visitation rights as a parent (grandparents and other family members are not usually offered 24/7 visits to limit the risk of infection). She played the same role as the many fathers that I saw on the NICU – she visited my son every day but had to juggle her caring responsibilities for the two of us alongside her work. She also incurred significant costs paying for taxis to the hospital to visit us in the evening (she does not drive and I could not drive following my surgery) and hospital refreshments for me to eat once I had been discharged, as our NICU did not provide any facilities for parents.

It would be helpful if the definition could include other individuals who will be the secondary carer for NICU babies. This would not incur any additional costs if the policy is designed to be offered to two parents.