Scotland

Glasgow East MP's sick baby leads to law change call

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Media captionDavid Linden wants parents to have more flexibility with their jobs if their children are born prematurely.

When David Linden's newborn daughter was fighting for life in a neo-natal unit last year he decided to take time off from his duties as an MP.

He now wants to change the law to extend parental leave for people whose babies spend time in neonatal care.

The Glasgow East MP watched his daughter "turn blue" and have to be resuscitated after she was born prematurely in September.

He said dads of sick babies should not need to worry about returning to work.

Image copyright David Linden
Image caption Mr Linden's daughter Jessica was in neo-natal intensive care after her birth in September

Under current UK legislation, partners get a maximum of two weeks paid parental leave and must use it within the first 56 days after their child is born.

Mr Linden told BBC Scotland's The Nine the partner often had to return to work while their child was still receiving essential care, posing huge practical challenges.

Both of the SNP MP's children - Isaac and Jessica - were born prematurely, along with about 60,000 babies each year in the UK. Overall, nearly 100,000 newborns spend time in neo-natal care across the country.

Image caption David Linden's daughter Jessica had severe breathing difficulties after birth

Mr Linden is calling for mothers and fathers to be compensated for every day or week their child spends on a neo-natal care ward by having their statutory parental leave extended in law.

He said this already happened in countries such as Sweden, where parental leave began when a child was discharged from hospital.

Image caption Both Mr Linden's children were born prematurely

"When my son was born we had him for a minute or two and he was whisked away to intensive care," he said.

"The first week of his life was spent in an incubator. You weren't allowed to hold him.

"You were holding his finger through the incubator and I think that if we expect parents to go back to work while their child is in an incubator then we are doing something fundamentally wrong."

Image caption The MP's daughter had to have oxygen 24 hours a day for eight months

His daughter Jessica was born in September.

"She had profound breathing difficulties that meant she had to be on oxygen for eight months at the beginning of her life," he said.

"Just a couple of weeks after she was born she stopped breathing in the hospital, turned blue and I watched her being resuscitated by a nurse.

"The idea that we expect mums and dads to go back to work while their kids are turning blue, I think everybody would accept that is not very good for an employee."

'Employee lottery'

Mr Linden said he was "lucky" as an MP to be able to take time to support his wife and child while they were in hospital.

"I think the vast majority of my constituents would understand that for a couple of weeks I would be at my daughter's bedside in the neo-natal unit," he said.

Mr Linden said there were plenty of good employers who would make flexible arrangements to support staff, but many did not think parents should have to rely on the "employee lottery" of having an understanding boss.

On Tuesday, the day before Mr Linden introduced his 10-minute rule bill to parliament, the UK government announced a consultation on his plans.

Mr Linden said the government had already conducted a "short, sharp, focused review" and was now "kicking the can down the road".

"What families like myself need is action from the government not another consultation," he said.

The UK government's Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst said: "Having a premature or sick baby can be an incredibly difficult time for parents.

"Some parents can face significant challenges if their baby spends a long time in neonatal care, which may impact on their ability to return and stay in work.

"As a government, we are committed to supporting working parents. This summer, we will be launching a consultation to see what further support can be provided to the parents of premature, sick and multiple babies."