A new report from Bliss has revealed a widespread lack of facilities and support for parents at neonatal units across England, keeping families apart at this traumatic time and preventing parents from being closely involved in their babies' care. This is despite strong evidence that premature and sick babies' health is improved when their parents are supported to take the lead in care such as through skin to skin care, breastfeeding and comfort holding.
One of the biggest barriers to families is a lack of overnight accommodation on or near the neonatal unit. As a result, parents across the country are having to cut their time with their baby short so they go home to sleep. More than a third of all units do not have dedicated accommodation for parents of critically ill babies who live many miles from home, and only five out of 29 neonatal intensive care units have enough accommodation to meet national standards.
Overnight accommodation is not a 'nice to have'. It is an essential part of neonatal services and vital for allowing parents to participate in their baby's care.
When we raised this issue during the last Parliament the Government assured us that £37 million was provided over two years to improve maternity and neonatal units across the country. But the reality is that of this investment, only one percent actually went to neonatal services to improve their facilities for families.
Take action now by emailing your MP to find out what plans the Government has to increase funding for family facilities, and what is being done in your local area.
"I was often exhausted and begged to be allowed to stay overnight so that I could do my baby's feed at 10pm. But I had no choice but to go home at 7pm each night."
(Nicola, mum of Charlie born at 27 weeks)
For babies born premature or sick to have the best possible chance of survival and good long-term health, it is vital that parents are there to support their recovery. To allow parents to be the centre of their baby's care, the hospital needs to provide a range of facilities and support to keep parents with their babies; including support to manage costs and to stay close to the neonatal unit.
We have found huge variation across England, and this means not every baby will be able to be fully cared for by their parents, because their parents are not sufficiently supported to be with them:
- One in seven neonatal units told us they are unable to provide any, or only very limited facilities or financial support to families
- 40 per cent of neonatal units have no or very limited kitchen facilities
- Fewer than one in five NICUs have enough overnight rooms for parents of critically ill babies
- One third of hospitals now charge parents for parking, when they could previously park for free
- One third of hospitals can't help parents with food and drink costs.
In 2013 we asked parents across Britain about the extra costs they faced while their baby was in neonatal care. Over 1,800 parents responded and they told us they were spending £282 extra every week. That means the average family has to find an extra £2,256 over the course of their baby's stay in hospital. See our It's not a game campaign pages for more information about these costs.