Power of parent voices leads to new neonatal leave and pay law

We’re delighted to see that the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill passed its final reading in the House of Lords on Tuesday 23 May 2023. Now we’re among charities calling for leave and pay entitlements to be introduced ahead of the Government’s planned date of April 2025.

This Bill will mean that parents and carers of babies admitted to neonatal care will receive extra paid time off work, giving them the emotional and financial support they need during a very difficult time.  

This new legislation will apply to working parents of babies admitted to hospital up to the age of 28 days who have a continuous stay in hospital of 7 days or more.  

Much-needed extra leave and pay will mean that parents can be with their baby or babies in hospital and have the time they need to recover following the trauma of neonatal intensive care, without the worry of additional financial pressures and returning to work too soon. 

We know that Anxiety and PTSD are extremely common in parents of babies born prematurely. Hospital records show that a third of mums and almost two-fifths of dads are diagnosed with postnatal depression after their babies were born too soon.  

Neonatal leave and pay was promised in the Government’s March 2020 Budget after years of campaigning by charities, including Bliss and The Smallest Things. The Government had pledged to give parents statutory paid leave for every week their baby remained in neonatal care up to a maximum of 12 weeks. 

We’re welcoming the new legislation but urging the Government not to delay in implementing the new neonatal leave and pay entitlements.  

Implementation is not expected until April 2025, which means that around 120,000 parents between now and then are likely to miss out. 

At Tommy’s we’re among the charities and trades unions supporting parents who are calling for implementation to happen sooner.

We've signed a letter led by the charity for premature babies, Bliss, calling for Ministers to act quickly. Parents going through this extremely difficult journey during the next two years must be supported. 

Tommy’s Chief Executive Kath Abrahams says:  

“Many parents find the strain of coping after premature birth overwhelming – having a sudden or traumatic birth and spending a lot of time in a neonatal unit is something most parents don’t plan for. This Bill will make a huge difference in helping many thousands of parents focus on their baby’s care and their own wellbeing without fearing for their financial stability too.  

“Parents have spent more than 8 years fighting for this Bill they shouldn’t have to wait another 2 years for its protections to take effect.” 

Catriona Ogilvy, Founder of The Smallest Things, says:  

“This new legislation will mean so much to families, giving them 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. That is why this news will be extremely difficult for families in neonatal care right now, and in the near future, who will not be able to access the new entitlements. 

“We know that many parents return to work while their baby is still in hospital and use up a significant portion of their leave while their baby is in the neonatal unit. This impacts on the health and wellbeing of both parents and baby, and reduces the chances of a successful return to work. We are urging the government to rethink the current implementation timeline and asking them to bring in this crucial entitlement with the urgency it needs.” 

Mike is dad to Harry and Sam, twins born at 25 weeks. Devastatingly, Sam died after 16 days. Harry spent 107 days in the hospital – 3.5 months of mum Sally’s maternity leave. Mike says: 

“When we finally brought Harry home he was on oxygen and most days were spent at check-ups or hospital visits. It wasn’t until he was 6 months that appointments became less frequent and by then we were already planning Sally’s return to school as a teacher. 
“If we had received additional leave, we would have been able to spend more time with Harry and savour being together as a family. We could have had some time to come to terms with the loss of Sam and be more prepared and able to commit to returning to the workforce. Bringing in additional neonatal leave will support families all over the country and enable them to focus on those precious moments you never get back.” 

My Prem Baby

In 2021 Tommy’s launched our My Prem Baby app for mums, dads and partners, so they can track their baby through pregnancy to after birth and get expert guidance at every step, including support for their own mental health and wellbeing. Our campaign last year was designed to raise awareness around the difficulties premature babies and their parents can face.  

Pregnancy and Parenting at Work

In 2022 we created Pregnancy and Parenting at Work, a training scheme for employers to help them improve their pregnancy and pregnancy loss support in the workplace.  

New laws which offer leave and pay protection are a fantastic development, but we’re also continuing to encourage and support employers in developing policies which are compassionate, flexible and tailored to employees needs - there are many journeys to parenthood, some more difficult than others, and no 2 experiences will be the same.