Recent hospital admissions with the nasty RSV winter virus has reminded me just how costly hospital stays can be. Not on the scale of finding yourself stranded with a premature baby in New York, our NHS is free after all at the point of use; but the cost of having a premature baby in the UK is very real and can continue long after neonatal care.
In 2014 the Bliss It’s not a game: The very real costs of having a premature or sick baby report highlighted that parents of premature babies spend on average an extra £2,256 over the course of their hospital stay. As a parent of a premature baby I recognise these costs, but I also know that the costs do not end there. Babies born too soon are regularly followed up within neonatal clinics and are at increased risk of subsequent hospital admissions due to the complications of premature birth. For many, hospital visits, admissions and the associated costs become part of everyday life.
For us a recent three night stay in our local hospital led to parking charges of more than £75. Add in a second child who had also been born prematurely and who the following week also required 3 nights in hospital (RSV is catching!) – the costs quickly mounted up. The hospital ‘visitor’ parking charges don’t take into account that you are not just another visitor. You are your child’s carer; comforting them, washing them, changing them, feeding them, helping them to take their medicine, up during the night to adjust their oxygen mask when the monitor alarm sounds – you are mum or dad. The ‘visitor’ visiting times don’t apply to you; as mum or dad you are there day and night, yet the parking meter ticks on regardless.
For parents in neonatal care though the admission and parking costs can last weeks, sometimes months. Although some units now offer reduced parking rates for parents of babies in NICU, the costs still add up over a prolonged period of time and many units don’t advertise their reduced parking costs widely. Unlike having a child admitted to a children’s ward where you remain resident with them, parents of babies born too soon come and go (how we’d love to stay with them). You are still mum and dad though; attending to cares, establishing feeding, learning how to care for your new born however tiny they may be. This is a precious time, an important time to bond and one that should not be compromised because of the cost of parking. During our 8 week NICU stay I recall waiting til gone 5pm at which time the street parking became free and I would look forward to the weekends, when again the street parking was free. I remember finding out that I could apply to the council for a residents parking permit – the permit was in my new baby’s name as he’d stayed at the hospital so long and could now be classed as a local resident. I couldn’t work out if this was good news or not!
(I had asked during our first week about parking charges, but had been told there was no support for parking costs. I only discovered this wasn’t the case weeks and hundreds of pounds later when another mother mentioned it in the expressing room).
Parking and the cost of hospital life should not restrict parents, for whom by the very nature of premature birth are going through an already stressful and worrying time, from seeing their babies. That is why I am supporting the Bliss campaign to tackle hospital parking charges and why I shall be writing to my local hospital trusts – watch this space for feedback!