Two-thirds of fathers of premature and sick babies are being forced to return to work while their child is in intensive care, a charity has said.
Of 737 parents surveyed by the neonatal charity Bliss, 77% said they were not given enough time off. And one in 10 parents had to leave their job as a result of their baby's stay in hospital, the results suggest.
The government says it is reviewing rules for parents of premature and sick babies. According to Bliss, around 100,000 babies born every year need intensive care in their first weeks of life. Campaigners are asking the government to change the law to guarantee that parents' paid leave will be extended by the period of time their baby is in hospital.
The survey, carried out between February 7 and 11 2019, also found:
- A quarter of fathers had to choose between taking time off when their baby was in neonatal care, or when their baby went home
- 77% of parents felt like their parental leave was not long enough, with this figure rising to 90% of parents whose baby spent 10 or more weeks in neonatal care, and 95% of dads
- Half of all parents would have liked to take more parental leave but couldn’t afford to take any longer off work
- 24% of dads said they were concerned for their job if they asked for more time off
- A fifth of parents whose baby spent 10 weeks or more in neonatal care took unpaid parental leave and/or time off for dependents.
Bliss chief executive Caroline Lee-Davey said, "Statutory paternity leave runs out long before many babies born premature or sick come home from hospital. This forces many dads and partners to be signed off sick or go back to work while their baby fights for their life.
"This is not good for babies or their parents - but it also is not good for employers when valued employees are either struggling to do their jobs while under immense stress worrying about their sick baby, or having to sign off sick or leave work altogether rather than take a planned leave of absence with their employer’s full support.
“Bliss calls on the government to give both dads and mums an extra paid week off work for every week their baby is in neonatal care, to ensure the best outcomes for babies, families and employers.”
David Linden, the SNP MP for Glasgow East, has two children who were born prematurely, and chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Premature and Sick Babies. He said: "These powerful survey responses back up the very same experiences I had when my own two children were born prematurely.
"So I firmly believe that the time has now come to act and extend the statutory element of parental leave to take into account the unique and challenging circumstances faced by the families of premature babies."
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has announced it is carrying out a "short, focused internal review" of the rules for parents of premature and sick babies and those who experience multiple births, to better understand the barriers they face in the labour market.