Wednesday, 24 May 2017

MP launches long overdue legislation aiding new parents

Steve Reed in his constituency office in Thornton Heath discussing his new plans to help families with premature babies. PHOTO/Jean Pierre Ivanov

Steve Reed, the Labour MP for Croydon North is leading the charge to tackle gaps in maternity and paternity leave legislation. He is currently proposing a prematurity bill which aims to extend statutory leave for parents of premature babies. Reed became aware of flaws in the current law in November 2015, when he took part in a debate with fellow MPs to discuss premature births and provisions currently in place for families with babies who were born earlier, in some cases months before the due date.

The House of Commons has recently accepted Mr Reed's Ten Minute Rule Motion which gives MPs ten minutes to introduce a new bill. There will be a second reading of the bill on 16th December where MPs will fully debate his proposals. In a small, unassuming room at his constituency office in Thornton Heath, Reed explained with real enthusiasm what inspired him to tackle this issue, which is often extremely painful for parents: “It was Catriona Ogilvy who is a constituent of mine and she had two babies that were born prematurely and she came to talk to me about how difficult it was for her.” He reiterated,

Ms Ogilvy had started a campaign called “The Smallest Things” as well as creating a petition attracting over 123,000 signatures which aims to extend maternity and paternity leave for parents of premature children. Ms Ogilvy’s son Samuel was born at 30 weeks and her maternity leave started the day after he was born so she had to spend two months visiting her child in neonatal intensive care. She had saved money during her pregnancy but this was spent on travel, food, parking and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) visits. Ms Ogilvy stated, “five years later I can still suffer flashbacks to our time in intensive care.” Having returned to work, her son Samuel was officially eight months old but according to his ‘corrected age’ he was less than six months old “and he was still extremely small and vulnerable,” she said.

In regards to the current legislation, Mr Reed said: “The UK has got good maternity and paternity leave available compared to other countries. But there is a gap in it, the gap is that if your child is born prematurely no additional provision is made for your needs under the law,” he confirmed. The MP said that one of the most important things we should do as a society is support families and particularly parents with vulnerable children and argues that the law does not support these families, therefore he is proposing a change in the law. The same facts are published by Bliss who state “The length of maternity and paternity leave does not recognise the difficulty for parents whose leave begins long before they can take their baby home from hospital.”

Mr Reed described the huge psychological impact on women: “1 in 5 mothers with a premature baby suffers from mental ill health as a result of that through post-natal depression.” He pointed out that often mothers require support from the father at this difficult time and fathers only get two weeks paternity leave. “That is inadequate and it's not fair on the baby. What more important to any person is that their child is fighting for its life that has to come first,” he stated.

The Labour MP expressed with sadness in his voice: “I've met parents whose child was born three months before the due date.” He reiterated that it's a very stressful and worrying time for parents, as they spend a lot of money getting accommodation and eating expensive meals out because they can't get home and cook. Mr Reed added: “The average family runs up a bill of £2,500 to have a premature baby and then eventually hopefully the child survives after three months and comes out of the incubator and is allowed to go home.” The website Bliss does confirm these costs in a recent report stating that the average family of a premature baby faces unexpected costs totalling £2,256 throughout their baby’s stay in hospital.

Mr Reed believes that many families who have premature babies are financially and emotionally worse off. Some mothers, he said, only have three months maternity leave left to take care of their child after they leave the hospital, putting the baby at a disadvantage as they have less time to bond with their newborn before they get back to work. Also, he went on to add: “many mothers have to take a lot of time sick off work that can damage their earnings. So the maternity provisions don't recognise those needs and we're trying to correct that.”

When asked how many people would benefit if his bill does become legislation, he responded enthusiastically: “I think it's 1 in 10.” This statistic is 1 in 13 according to the NHS website. Reed explained that a more flexible system is sensible for parents and will give them the freedom to judge what is right for their child “If your baby is born one week premature then it's not a problem but three months is life threatening so it can depend on the length of time,” he added. The Verywell website states micro preemie babies which are those born below 26 weeks gestation, suffer from long-term cognitive problems, vision and hearing loss and this was certified by a physician.

Reed exclaimed proudly that his bill is supported by fellow colleagues across the political spectrum. “We got cross-party support from 12 other MPs from Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties backing it,” he said.

The MP, elected in November 2012, believes the best chance of the bill becoming a piece of legislation is by arranging a meeting with Margot James, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility, who according to Mr Reed is the Minister responsible; persuading her to change an existing piece of legislation through parliament will allow the process to be completed quicker.

Key words: Prematurity Bill, Bliss, Verywell, Steve Reed, Catriona Ogilvy