ABBEY NATIONAL, the nation's second biggest mortgage lender is to give all Britain's Christmas babies an extra gift. A new house might have been at the top of most young parents' wish lists, but even Santa has his limits.

The Abbey instead is spending more than pounds 500,000 on the gift of health by guaranteeing a hospital bed for each baby born on Christmas Day, through one year's free medical cover, worth pounds 250. Any parent of a baby born on December 25 need only take the baby's birth certificate to an Abbey National branch to claim a free policy.

With the policy, festive babies will be able to enjoy the best medical treatment available in their first year. It will mean children can receive medical treatment at their parents' convenience, not at that of hospitals or doctors.

An Abbey spokesman explains: "Our research showed that most babies spend some time in hospital during the first year of their lives, and that this can be a very worrying time for their parents. By giving them access to top quality private hospitals and immediate appointments, much of that worry can be alleviated."