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MP's bid to give parents more time with premature babies

David Linden's bill seeks to extend parental leave for those whose newborns need neonatal care.

Jessica: Nine-month-old spent first eight months of life on oxygen.
Jessica: Nine-month-old spent first eight months of life on oxygen. STV

A Scots MP who wants to extend parental leave for those whose babies are premature has overcome the first Commons hurdle in his bid to change the law.

Glasgow East MP David Linden's draft bill, introduced before Parliament on Wednesday, seeks to give new parents an extra leave for every day or week their baby spends in neonatal care.

Both of the SNP MP's two children were born pre-term, each at 33 weeks, and Mr Linden says that experience has shown him existing UK employment law is not sufficient.

His youngest, nine-month-old Jessica, spent the first month of her life in specialist care and the first eight months of her life on 24-hour oxygen.

"I was an MP at that point and I was very fortunate insofar as I could decide to take longer off work because my job allows for that," Mr Linden told STV News.

"But not everybody's an MP and so that's why I want to make sure that using the privileged position that I've got, I can try and change the law and give families the support that they need.

"In my daughter's case, I remember being in the neonatal unit and she turned blue because she stopped breathing, and watching her being resuscitated.

"Now, the idea that we would be asking parents to go back to work whilst their children are being resuscitated in an intensive care unit really is wrong.

"But that's what the UK legislation currently allows for."

David Linden: MP's three-year-old son Isaac was also born pre-term.
David Linden: MP's three-year-old son Isaac was also born pre-term. STV

In 2018, more than four thousand babies were born prematurely in Scotland, which means anything before thirty-seven weeks, affecting around a sixth of new parents.

Research by the charity Bliss, which supports Mr Linden's bill, found that two thirds of dads had to return to work while their newborn was still in neonatal care.

In addition, nearly a quarter of new fathers said they would have been concerned for their jobs if they hadn't gone back.

Introducing his draft bill in a ten-minute rule motion before MPs, Mr Linden highlighted the case of a constituent who worked in the retail sector, whose son arrived 15 weeks early.

He became embroiled in the centre of an HR dispute between his line manager, who supported his request to begin his paternity leave early, and the next senior manager who did not.

Then, after his two weeks' paternity leave was up but his newborn was still "touch and go" in intensive care, Mr Linden's constituent was told he would need to take unpaid rather than annual leave if he wanted to extend his time off, which he could not afford.

The constituent eventually left his job after being signed off sick for two months due to stress.

Following his speech, MPs allowed Mr Linden's to progress to a second reading.

' I remember being in the neonatal unit and she turned blue because she stopped breathing, and watching her being resuscitated. Now, the idea that we would be asking parents to go back to work whilst their children are being resuscitated in an intensive care unit really is wrong.'
David Linden MP

Mr Linden highlighted positive corporate policies such as equal parental leave at firms like Diageo and the BBC, but said employment law - reserved to Westminster - needs to be updated to ensure all new working parents benefit.

Earlier this week, the UK Government announced a consultation on parental leave for those with premature or sick babies.

Business minister Kelly Tolhurst said: "Having a premature or sick baby can be an incredibly difficult time for parents.

"Some parents can face significant challenges if their baby spends a long time in neonatal care, which may impact on their ability to return and stay in work.

"As a government, we are committed to supporting working parents.

"This summer, we will be launching a consultation to see what further support can be provided to the parents of premature, sick and multiple babies."

However, Mr Linden complains UK ministers have already explored the subject in an internal review which they still haven't published the findings of.

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