Parents of newborns in neonatal care are one step closer to being eligible for additional paid leave.
A bill that would make it the law for parents with babies admitted to neonatal care to have up to 12 weeks of leave and pay has passed its second reading in the House of Lords after clearing the House of Commons.
Parliament heard how around 700,000 babies are admitted to neonatal care each year, with the stress for parents often added to by concerns over their jobs and money.
The law would apply to parents of babies who spend at least one week in a neonatal unit for babies born prematurely or with medical conditions.
Parents would be eligible to take 12 weeks of leave and pay at a statutory rate of £156.66 a week or 90% of their average earnings, whichever is lower, for every week the child is in neonatal care.
This would be on top of any other parental entitlements such as two weeks of paid paternity leave and 39 weeks of paid maternity leave.
Supporters of the bill said the basic parental leave is not enough for parents whose babies experience medical complications.
Conservative peer Baroness Wyld introduced the Private Members’ Bill – Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill – in June 2022 but campaigners have been calling for the law for years.
In March 2020, when Rishi Sunak was chancellor, he pledged to introduce the changes in his budget but the money was not set to be allocated until 2023 at the earliest and legislation was never introduced by the government.
Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player
Premature babies bond virtually with parents Labour MP Alex Davies-Jones has been campaigning in parliament for extra support for the past few years after her son, Sullivan, spent five days in neonatal care in 2019.
But she had no luck despite urging then Health Secretary Matt Hancock and appealing to then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had just had a new baby.
Several peers praised the bill as it went through its second reading in the Lords on Friday.
Obstetrician Lord Patel called it a “compassionate bill that will help thousands of parents at a very anxious time of their lives”.
Toddlers stop napping ‘when their brain has developed’
The real cost of childcare
Former DUP leader Baroness Foster said she hoped it would be replicated in Northern Ireland once the executive is back up and running.
She revealed how she spent three weeks in a neonatal unit after her first child was born with a congenital heart problem and had to have open heart surgery.
“He’s now a strapping 16-year-old rugby player, doing absolutely very well,” she said.
“Having to rely on neonatal care can happen to any couple and this bill will allow the mother and the partner to be there to support each other and the other little bundle of joy being cared for, without the additional worry about where the next paycheck is coming from.”
The bill will now go to the final stages in the Lords before it is expected to get Royal Assent and be made into law.