A Kerry healthcare worker denied bereavement leave following a stillbirth at 20 weeks has urged the HSE to change its leave policy.
The woman worked in a local hospital throughout the pandemic. She became pregnant earlier this year before she and her partner tragically found out the pregnancy was not viable and she would have to give birth at 20 weeks.
Because she was not entitled to leave in the interim, she used her sick leave in the intervening eight weeks.
However, she was told that because her pregnancy did not make it to 24 weeks, she was not entitled to any leave after he was born.
"I rang work beforehand to see where I stood on bereavement and was told I was entitled to nothing but if I did make it to 24 weeks, I could get six months on full wages.
"That leave would mean I'd be able to take time to grieve. I was lucky to have the support of my family and partner, but without my annual leave, I'd have had to be back on the Monday after giving birth on the Friday."
Around 15,000 pregnancies end in early pregnancy loss and miscarriage every year. According to the HSE, “at least one in five women will have a miscarriage”.
In Ireland, if you have a stillbirth or miscarriage any time after the 24th week of pregnancy, you are entitled to full maternity leave, but not earlier.
The woman, who asked not to be named, told thea change should be made to HSE policy.
"If I don't fight for this, then he wasn't born. He was born, buried, and put in a casket," she said.
A HSE spokesperson said it "cannot comment on individual staff members to protect their privacy".
"The HSE complies with Government policy on employee entitlements and leave," they said.
"We apply the provisions of the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 & 2004 which provide for the granting of maternity leave to a “pregnant employee” or “employee who has recently given birth” based on the date of “confinement” as defined in the Social Welfare Acts.
"Staff are entitled to full maternity leave if they have a stillbirth or miscarriage after week 24 of pregnancy. Staff can apply to their line manager for sick leave if at an earlier stage of pregnancy."
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Equality, Integration and Law Reform, Pa Daly, called on the HSE to examine its policies on leave.
“This was a terrible set of circumstances for the woman in question and should be examined more closely, both in her specific case and so that future instances of such cases are avoided.
"A change in HSE policy on the matter would not require any law to be changed and I have written to the Minister for Health to state as much.
“Frontline workers have sacrificed so much over the past two years, and the state can set the right example by providing compassion for those most in need.”