Tag Archives: its not a game

Parent or Visitor: The parking meter ticks on regardless

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.

not a gameIn 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.

hospital parkingFor 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.

smallest thingsFor 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).

bliss smallest thingsParking 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!

Extend mat leave for mothers of premature babies!

cropped-cuddles.jpgEach year in the United Kingdom 80,000 babies receive specialist NHS neonatal care, with approximately a quarter spending a prolonged period of time in hospital. Parents of premature babies often describe their hospital journey as a physical and emotional rollercoaster. I have been on this rollercoaster and write about my experiences as part of our Smallest Things campaign. But there is also a very real cost to having a premature baby.

Earlier this year, Bliss reported on the added financial burden placed on parents of sick or premature babies. Be it travel, parking, accommodation, extra childcare or meals, the cost soon adds up, with figures suggesting that parents spend on average an extra £2,256 over the course of their hospital stay. Through my own story and the Smallest Things we are calling on UK government to extend statutory maternity leave and statutory maternity pay for parents of babies born prematurely.

A newborn needing prolonged hospital care is unlike any other childhood illnesses requiring hospitalisation. There is virtually no financial support for parents of premature or sick babies. Being in hospital you cannot apply for the disability living allowance and the flexibility of taking paid, unpaid or sick leave from work is not possible as maternity leave begins automatically the day after birth, in many cases weeks or months before a baby comes home.

The interruption of pregnancy and the uncertainty and loss of time preparing for your new arrival all add to the anxiety of life in neonatal care. The cost of daily hospital visits and concern over whether you can afford to be with your baby should not add to this difficult time. Getting over the initial shock parents describe how the hope of bringing their baby home can turn to anger and sadness that their time at home together will also be cut short. In context, more than a quarter of my maternity leave was spent visiting my baby in hospital and according to Bliss, like me, 60 per cent of mothers felt their maternity leave was too short.

In addition, premature babies are babies for longer. Born early they develop according to their ‘corrected’ age, calculated according to their due date rather than their birth date. This sees parents returning to work when their babies are still physically and emotionally less developed in comparison to babies born on or near their due date. This can be a worrying time for parents, particularly when a baby is still small or has ongoing medical concerns.

sam photoStudies also confirm that the risk of depression and anxiety is higher for mothers who have spent time in neonatal care, with many reporting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The added financial burden of a long hospital stay or limited time to bond with your baby at home can only exacerbate the risk. Extending statutory maternity leave and pay would enable mothers to have the emotional and financial support needed at a time of great trauma and stress, in turn leading to better postnatal health, a more positive return to work and better outcomes for baby’s development.

Is change is possible? YES, and the precedent has already been set. European countries such as Finland, Iceland and Croatia are all offering extended leave for parents of premature or sick babies. If you agree that mothers of babies born too soon should have more time, please sign and share our petition – SIGN NOW!