Dads Of Babies In Neonatal Care Are Signing Themselves Off Sick To Visit Them

A quarter are concerned for their job if they ask for more time off.

More than a third of dads resort to being signed off sick to be able to spend time with a child that is receiving specialist neonatal care, a survey has found.

The research by the premature and sick babies charity, Bliss, found 66% of dads had to return to work while their baby was still receiving specialist neonatal care – and a quarter had to choose between taking time off when their baby was in neonatal care or when their baby went home. Just under a quarter (24%) were concerned for their job if they asked for more time off.

Overall, 77% of the 737 parents surveyed by Bliss felt 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, in particular.

“When I told my employer that my wife had gone into early labour, there was a dispute between my line manager – who was supporting me – and her manager about whether I could start my paternity leave early,” said dad Lawrence Quayle, who ended up being signed off as sick when his son Leo arrived 15 weeks early.

“I was dealing with HR when my son was just a few days old and needed me at his cot side.”

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Eventually Quayle was given his paternity leave, but because his son was in intensive care at a hospital 60 miles from home, he knew he’d need more time with him and to support his wife.

“Things with Leo were very touch and go and there were a number of occasions where it looked like we could lose him,” he said. “I was told I couldn’t take any annual leave and could only take unpaid leave – which I simply could not afford. I ended up being signed off from work with stress for two months. The strain this put on my relationship with the managers at work meant that I chose to leave the company shortly afterwards.”

Quayle is one of many dads who struggle to juggle work and paternity leave when their child arrives earlier than planned. Caroline Lee-Davey, chief executive of Bliss, wants to highlight the problem and is calling 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.

Statutory paternity leave runs out long before many babies born premature or sick come home from hospital,” Lee-Davey said. “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.”

David Linden, MP for Glasgow East, is supporting the charity’s campaign. “These powerful survey responses back up the very same experiences I had when my own two children were born prematurely,” he said. “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.

“We’ve had encouraging talks with ministers who seem aware of the issue but the key message from this survey is that the time for talk is over – and the time for action is now.”