A major acute trust in London has pledged to boost support for nurses and other members of staff whose babies are born prematurely or sick.
University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is the first trust in the city and one of only three across the UK to gain the Employer with Heart accreditation awarded by premature baby charity The Smallest Things after adopting its charter.
“Having a baby born prematurely or unwell is an extremely stressful time”
UCLH has won praise from the Royal College of Midwives for “leading the way” by signing up to the initiative.
The policy – introduced in early January – means mothers and fathers who work at the organisation will be entitled to extra paid leave after a premature birth or if their new baby needs special care.
“Having a baby born early can mean waiting weeks before you bring your baby home from hospital and added stress and emotional worry, juggling work and family commitments,” said UCLH director of workforce Ben Morrin.
“That time should never have to be taken as normal maternity or paternity leave,” he added. “We hope that by introducing extended leave we will give parents precious time to bond when any affected family is back home together.”
Employers who sign up to Smallest Things’ best practice charter pledge to extend paid maternity leave for mothers of premature babies by the number of days a baby was born prior to their due date, and ensure fathers get at least two weeks’ paid compassionate leave.
They also promise to support mothers and fathers returning to work after the birth of a premature baby including considering flexible working and additional paid or unpaid leave.
“They are leading the way alongside other London employers”
Charity founder Catriona Ogilvy said she was delighted UCLH and other London employers were recognising the needs of families affected by premature birth.
“We are delighted that UCLH have taken these step towards supporting staff whose babies are born premature or poorly,” she said.
“They are leading the way alongside other London employers and we hope that other London hospitals follow in their example too,” she added.
“Visiting a baby in neonatal intensive care is an uncertain and traumatic time for families and it is right that parents are given the additional paid leave to fully recover and bond with their baby once at home,” Ms Ogilvy said.
Clare Livingstone, professional policy advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, also commended UCLH’s stance and said she would like all trusts to do the same in order to lift “unbearable” pressures on parents.
“Having a baby born prematurely or unwell is an extremely stressful time for any parent and it may be weeks or even months before a parent can bring their child home for the first time,” said Ms Livingstone.
“That time should never have to be taken as normal maternity or paternity leave”
“During that period, a lot of parents will have to balance working and spending time with their sick or premature baby and looking after other children or family members that they may care for,” she added. “The pressure this puts on both mothers and fathers is unimaginable.”
She said parents often had no choice but to take unpaid leave at the end of maternity leave “and the financial burden this puts on families can be unbearable”.
“So the RCM are delighted that UCLH are leading the way and supporting parents of sick and premature babies and we would urge all trusts to consider doing the same for their staff,” she added.
Ms Ogilvy confirmed to Nursing Times that UCLH was the third NHS trust to gain the charity’s Employer with Heart charter mark. The first was went to Medway Foundation Trust followed by Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust.
She also hoped many other trusts would follow their example.
“The Smallest Things are working at the moment with other NHS trusts and we hope that many more will make this change to support staff during these traumatic and uncertain times,” she said.