1,000 signatures reached
To: Alok Sharma MP, Secretary of State for BEIS; Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for HSC; Vaughan Gething AM; Health and Social Services Minister; Robin Swann MLA, Minister of Health
Support parents to be with their babies during COVID-19
To introduce Neonatal Leave and Pay now for all working parents, including the self-employed and those with ‘worker’ status.
To introduce nationally coordinated funds for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, to provide parents with financial support towards subsistence costs on the unit, in line with support available since 2018 in Scotland through the Neonatal Expenses Fund.
To introduce free hospital parking for parents visiting babies on neonatal units in England and Northern Ireland.
To prioritise parents of babies in neonatal care for rapid testing to minimise unnecessary separation of parents from their baby on neonatal units.
Why is this important?
Every day, 300 babies are admitted to neonatal care either because they were born premature or because they were born full-term but sick. Some of these babies will need life-saving care for weeks and sadly, some will never make it home at all.
When parents can provide hands-on care, babies have the very best long-term developmental outcomes and parents’ wellbeing is also improved. But because of COVID-19, parents’ ability to be with their babies in neonatal care is being limited by changes to access onto neonatal units and the effects of the lockdown.
The emotional toll of this on families is huge. One father who is no longer allowed to see his baby told us: ‘I feel like I’ve had a bit of my heart taken out’. A mother who is seeing her baby on alternative days so her partner can also be with him said: ‘It’s hard leaving your son at all, never mind not being able to go up when you want to see him. And I’ve got the underlying worry on top of all that about whether he’s going to have any long-term health problems.’
Current Parental Leave policies are already not fit for purpose for parents with a baby in neonatal care. Bliss was delighted when the UK Government announced they would introduce Neonatal Leave and Pay. But this won’t be available until 2023.Many parents have been furloughed on 80% pay, and self-employed parents will have to wait until June for Government help towards their loss of income. The UK Government must introduce a version of Neonatal Leave and Pay now to support parents in this unprecedented situation – and ensure it covers those who are self-employed or in insecure work.
Previous research by Bliss found that the average cost of having a baby on a neonatal unit was £282 per week – due to daily travel, parking food and drink at the hospital, accommodation and childcare for older children. These costs are even more difficult to manage during COVID-19. Parents without a car are being asked to avoid public transport, making them reliant on costly taxis or on lifts. Many food establishments at hospitals have closed, limiting choices and parent accommodation is increasingly unavailable on hospital sites due to infection control reasons. Nationally coordinated funds, and access to free parking at NHS sites, are essential to enable parents to be with their baby at this time.
Having a baby in neonatal care is a traumatic experience at any time, but, for many parents, their anxiety and stress is heightened because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To minimise the spread of the virus, neonatal units across the UK have made difficult decisions to restrict who can come onto the unit – with most now only allowing one parent onto a neonatal unit at a time. Understandably, parents suspected to have COVID-19 are not allowed onto neonatal units at all, leading them to be separated from their baby for up to two weeks. To prevent prolonged unnecessary separation, parents of babies in neonatal care should be prioritised for rapid testing if they are suspected to have COVID-19.