South Ayrshire Council employees with children who receive hospital care following a premature birth are being given additional paid maternity and paternity leave.
Changes to the council’s Special Leave Policy mean that female employees are now entitled to seven days’ paid leave for every week a baby is born prematurely and in hospital care.
The additional time will be added on to the end of maternity leave period.
Fathers, partners and caregivers of premature babies at South Ayrshire Council are now entitled to two weeks’ paid additional special leave on compassionate grounds, following the birth of the baby.
The NHS defines premature babies as those born before 37 weeks, ranging from moderate to late (32-36 weeks) through to extremely pre-term (before 28 weeks). The Scottish council estimates that five female staff members are likely to go into early labour every year.
Cllr Peter Henderson, South Ayrshire Council’s portfolio holder for resources and performance said: ‘Traumatic stress that a premature birth places on families is huge and we’re committed to supporting our staff through these difficult times in order to return to work having had quality time to bond with their child.
‘Complications, which result in higher travelling costs to and from hospital, the extra time required to deal with birth-related health issues, and a propensity for higher levels of depression all add up to testing times for parents caring for a premature baby.
‘By changing the way we work as a council, we’re leading from the front, taking a proactive and positive approach and providing additional support for our staff at a time they need it most. We also hope this positive move will inspire other organisations to consider making a similar change.’
The new approach has been welcomed by the premature and sick baby charity, Bliss Scotland.
The charity’s chief executive, Caroline Lee-Davey, said: ‘This new support will make a huge difference to families experiencing the upheaval which a premature birth brings and this responsible move will help to remove some of the stress experienced during these traumatic times.
‘Our evidence is clear that babies do best when their parents are as involved as possible in their care on the neonatal unit, and we know that there are considerable costs associated with having a premature or sick baby, with an average of an extra £2,256 spent by parents while their baby is in hospital.
‘By extending paid leave, parents of premature babies will be able to spend as much time as possible with their child without the additional burden of financial pressure. We hope that councils across Scotland will follow in South Ayrshire’s footsteps.’