All 1 Jill Mortimer contributions to the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act 2023

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Fri 15th Jul 2022

Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill

Jill Mortimer Excerpts
2nd reading
Friday 15th July 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jill Mortimer Portrait Jill Mortimer (Hartlepool) (Con)
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I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) on this important Bill. As chair of the all-party group on maternity, I know all too well that more support is needed for parents and babies in neonatal care, including statutory pay and leave. I am proud that the UK already has a range of policies in place to support parents to balance work and family life, including family-related leave and pay entitlements, the right to request flexible working, and protections from detriment for parents seeking or taking time off work to care for their families. However, it has become increasingly clear through national consultations and my work chairing the all-party group that we should be offering even more support to parents whose babies are in neonatal care. That was a key pledge in our 2019 manifesto and I am delighted to support the Bill.

Although I do not have a neonatal care unit in my constituency, our midwives at the Rowan suite in Hartlepool are superb. They are some of the most caring and loving people I know. Still, no care, however brilliant, can truly beat that provided by parents themselves. Parents whose babies are in neonatal care should be able to spend as much time as possible by their baby’s side. Holding them in their arms, feeling that tiny heartbeat, stroking the first hairs on their head should not be overshadowed by worries about work and pay. We all know that this skin-to-skin contact in the first weeks following birth is essential to ensuring better outcomes for babies and their parents. Long periods of direct care by parents can improve breastfeeding rates, increase weight gain, improve infant reflexes, lead to better motor development, and reduce pain during invasive procedures.

However, too many parents are excluded from that direct care. As my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) and the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East said—I thank them for sharing their emotional stories—it is a particular problem for fathers. With only two weeks of paternity leave available, 66% of fathers have to return to work long before their babies are well enough to come home. In fact, in around 70% of families with a significant neonatal stay, one parent had to return to work while their baby was still being cared for in hospital—often in another city many miles away.

Although mothers are entitled to longer leave than fathers, many mothers also have to return to work before they should. This is because mothers whose babies are in neonatal care use weeks or months of their maternity leave while they are still in the hospital. When their baby comes home, mothers may only have a few weeks with their baby before their statutory maternity pay comes to an end. It is simply not right that mothers must return to the workplace when their baby has only just left neonatal care.

However, this is about more than parents’ financial worries; it is about addressing the emotional trauma a parent goes through when their baby is seriously unwell and in neonatal care. As many as 80% of parents report that their mental health deteriorated after their neonatal experience. They deserve our full support, which I believe this Bill will offer. No parent should be forced back into the workplace when their baby is in neonatal care. The financial and emotional stresses caused by the current system cannot go on. I join colleagues across the House in supporting this Bill, and I hope that mothers and fathers across the country will be reassured by the contributions in today’s debate.