Two thirds of dads forced to return to work while their baby was still in neonatal care

Posted on February 18, 2019

A new survey by the premature and sick charity Bliss has found that 66 per cent of dads had to return to work while their baby was still receiving specialist neonatal care.

The survey of 737 parents also found that 36 per cent of dads resorted to being signed off sick in order to spend time with their baby on the neonatal unit.

Lawrence Quayle, a former retail worker from Bedford, is just one of the dads who was left with no choice but to be signed off as sick after his son Leo arrived 15 weeks early.

Lawrence said: “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. I was dealing with HR when my son was just a few days old and needed me at his cotside.

“Eventually, I was given my paternity leave but because Leo was in intensive care at a hospital 60 miles from home, I knew I’d need more time with him and to support my wife. Things with Leo were very touch and go and there were a number of occasions where it looked like we could lose him. 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.”

Key findings

  • A quarter of fathers had to choose between taking time off when their baby was in neonatal care, or when their baby went home
  • 77 per cent of parents felt like their parental leave was not long enough, with this figure rising to 90 per cent of parents whose baby spent 10 or more weeks in neonatal care, and 95 per cent of dads
  • Half of all parents would have liked to take more parental leave but couldn’t afford to take any longer off work
  • 24 per cent of dads said they were concerned for their job if they asked for more time off
  • A fifth of parents whose baby spent 10 weeks or more in neonatal care took unpaid parental leave and/or time off for dependents

Caroline Lee-Davey, Chief Executive of Bliss, said: “Statutory paternity leave runs out long before many babies born premature or sick come home from hospital. 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.

“Bliss calls 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.”

David Linden, MP for Glasgow East, said: “These powerful survey responses back up the very same experiences I had when my own two children were born prematurely. 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 and sick 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.”

Survey methodology

Between 7-11 February 2019, Bliss conducted a survey with parents who had an experience of neonatal care. 737 parents responded to the survey [623 mums and 114 dads]. Between them, they had 943 separate experiences of neonatal care and parental leave.