CARMARTHENSHIRE County Council has become the first local authority in Wales to give its employees additional paid leave if they have a premature baby.
The council’s executive board has agreed to implement a new policy to support employees who give birth at or before 37 weeks, or where their baby requires hospitalisation at full-term birth.
Employees will be entitled to receive an extra week’s leave and pay for every week their premature baby spends in hospital before their due date.
The leave will be added to the end of the employee’s maternity, adoption, shared parental, maternity support or paternity period, but the pay will be made available up-front to support parents with expenses associated with hospital visits and childcare costs for older siblings – thought to be in excess of £2,000 over the course of an average new-born intensive care unit stay.
In addition, employees whose babies have been hospitalised immediately following a full-term birth due to illness will receive additional leave and pay of up to four weeks.
The policy has been welcomed by staff, including Trading Standards officer Heidi Neil, whose daughter Nancy was born prematurely at 24 weeks in 2017, spending 14 weeks in hospital receiving acute neonatal care.
“This is such a positive move by the council that will have a massive impact on the wellbeing of parents,” she said. “It will alleviate some of the financial pressures faced by families with babies in the NICU and reassure them of their employer’s support. For us, if the worry about loss of income had been removed, it would have also removed the worry of needing to return to work while Nancy was in need of on-going specialist treatment, even after discharge – which is often the case when a baby is born too soon. It would have also given us back the 14 weeks we spent in hospital to spend longed-for quality time with our baby. I hope other employers follow suit.”
In the UK, 60,000 babies are born prematurely every year, many needing urgent neonatal care after birth and likely to be hospitalised for a longer period than babies born at full term.
This means many parents have to wait weeks, or months, before their baby is allowed home so they can enjoy what is remaining of their leave.
Cllr Mair Stephens, Deputy Leader and executive board member responsible for human resources, said: “In the last year, five council staff had to start their maternity leave early following premature birth, although this figure could be higher.
“This policy is being implemented to support staff at one of the most challenging and difficult times of their lives, and to provide flexibility when they need it most.
“Of course it is very difficult to predict a premature birth, but when this does happen we will support our staff.”