Leeds MP in plea to end 'anguish' for parents of premature babies

Rachel Reeves MP
Rachel Reeves MP
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Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves said the Government is "letting down thousands of parents"  by failing  to publish the findings of an internal review of parental leave and pay provisions for parents of premature babies.

The Government held a public consultation earlier this year during which parents were asked what they believed needed to change in relation to statutory leave for parents of premature babies.

Harriet Chaplin with her baby Amaiya Robson

Harriet Chaplin with her baby Amaiya Robson

The findings from the public consultation have not yet been published.

In a letter sent to Kelly Tolhurst MP, minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility; charities Bliss, The Smallest Things and the Twins and Multiple Births Assiociation (TAMBA) join Ms Reeves and David Linden MP in their condemnation of the Department’s decision not to publish their findings from the review - despite multiple commitments in parliament to do so.

The signatories of the letter all contributed to the internal review conducted by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

The evidence supplied during the review revealed that inflexibility of parental leave policies mean some parents have no option but to stop working.

A survey by the premature and sick charity Bliss also found that 66 per cent of dads had to return to work while their baby was still receiving specialist neonatal care and that 36 per cent of dads resorted to being signed off sick in order to spend time with their baby on the neonatal unit.

Despite assurances from BEIS directly, and from Prime Minister Theresa May in Prime Minister’s Questions that officials from the department would be willing to meet with the charities and MPs again to discuss the conclusions of the review, Minister Kelly Tolhurst MP has since stated that that there were “no plans to publish the advice that makes up the review.

Ms Reeves said: “The Government is letting down thousands of parents by its failure to publish the long-awaited findings of its review.

“Every day of delay just adds to the anguish of parents who are trying to cope with balancing maternity leave with the needs of their premature baby.

“The Government must explain why it has failed to publish this review and make the findings public as soon as possible. It is time for ministers to get a grip and stop dithering.”

Caroline Lee-Davey, Chief Executive of Bliss, said: "It is extremely disappointing that this issue has since been kicked into the long-grass when one in seven parents in the UK will spend time on the neonatal unit with a poorly baby.

“Bliss calls on the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to publish the advice that makes up the review.

"We strongly believe the review will show that the Government should give both dads and mums an extra week of statutory paid parental leave for every week their baby is in neonatal care, to ensure the best outcomes for babies and their families.”

Last month the YEP reported how a Leeds mum whose premature baby was born weighing just 2lb 12oz welcomed a decision by council bosses to change the policy on maternity and paternity leave for parents whose children are born early.

Leeds City Council welfare rights worker Harriet Chaplin, 28, of Bramley, spent the majority of her six month’s maternity leave visiting baby daughter Amaiya Robson in hospital or caring for her at home after she was born nine weeks prematurely.

Miss Chaplin wanted to spend more time on maternity leave at home, bonding with her daughter, who is now ten months old.

The council agreed to give Ms Chaplin an extra nine weeks maternity leave on full pay, in line with a campaign being run by premature baby charity The Smallest Things.

The Smallest Things launched its Employer With Heart’ campaign last February and asked employers to extend paid maternity leave from a baby’s due date to when it was born.

The campaign also asked employers for at least an additional two weeks paid leave for dads and partners.

Following Miss Chaplin’s case, the council said it is changing its policy on maternity and paternity leave.

Coun James Lewis, deputy council deader and executive member for resources and sustainability, said: “At Leeds City Council we have recognised that parental leave for parents of premature babies is an important issue.

“As a result we are reflecting the recommendations of The Smallest Things charity’s Employer with Heart Campaign’ in our current update of maternity and paternity policy.”

Welcoming the council’s policy change, Miss Chaplin said: “It is really important. It is going to help a lot of people.

“It is brilliant, I want it for everyone. I have got friends that were in hospital at the same time whose babies are still poorly now and they are having to go back to work or leave their jobs because they are not getting any extra support.”

Miss Chaplin was struggling with high blood pressure when she was around 25 weeks pregnant and tests revealed she was suffering from pre-eclampsia.

She was admitted to Leeds General Infirmary at 30 weeks pregnant on July 19, 2018.

Daughter Amaiya was born at 31 weeks by emergency caesarean section, which was carried out on July 24 as her heart rate was slowing down.

Amaiya spent time in intensive care and the high dependency unit, spending a total of five weeks in hospital.

Harriet’s mum, Tracey Chaplin, raised her daughter’s case with Ms Reeves, who is campaigning for the Government to provide extra support so mums of premature babies can have more paid maternity and longer at-home bonding with their babies.

Ms Reeves spoke to the council and quoted Harriett Chaplin as an example during a question on the issue to Theresa May at a Prime Minister’s Questions session in February.

A BEIS spokesperson said: “We understand that having a premature or sick baby is incredibly difficult for parents.

"Our parental leave rights are among the most generous in the world and we are currently exploring a range of options for providing further support for parents of premature, sick and multiple babies."