Most neonatal intensive care units lack sufficient accommodation for families of babies in their care, according to a new report.
Bliss, a UK charity for premature and sick babies, has reported that five out of six units caring for the most vulnerable babies lack accommodation, leaving thousands of parents unable to have close involvement in their babies’ neonatal care.
The report, Families kept apart: barriers to parents’ involvement in their baby’s hospital care, notes that one in eight babies born in the UK requires specialist hospital care.
However, it shows significant variation and frequent gaps in the provision of services across England, such as a lack of overnight accommodation, kitchen space, and financial support.
Only five out of 29 neonatal intensive care units meet national standards for the provision of overnight accommodation for parents.
Meanwhile, 15 out of 99 neonatal units are unable to provide any, or only provide very limited, facilities or financial support for families.
By contrast, all hospital children’s departments have some level of accommodation for parents.
Caroline Davey, chief executive of Bliss, said: “To give premature and sick babies the best possible chance of good long-term health, parents must be able to provide daily hands-on care. But many families simply cannot afford to do that.
“In many cases, the lack of the right facilities and financial support is keeping parents from being with their children when they need them the most. Government and the NHS must urgently address these deficits, and Bliss’ report lists concrete proposals that should be implemented immediately.”
Experts have said that early, hands-on parental involvement improves bonding and long-term outcomes for both babies and families, and reduces the length of the baby’s stay in hospital.
Furthermore, for parents whose baby sadly dies, good support services allow them to spend as much time as they can with their baby and give parents a supportive environment to grieve.
In addition, the report notes that parking can cost as much as £72 a day, despite repeated government guidance that free or reduced parking should be available to anyone visiting critically ill or long-stay patients.
Fiona Smith, professional lead for children and young people’s nursing at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “This report highlights just how many families are being affected by the major disparities in neonatal services across the country.
“It’s vital that all services provide the facilities for parents to spend time with their babies in neonatal units, as their hands on care improves outcomes for babies and families. It can also reduce the time babies need to spend in hospital, alleviating pressures on often overburdened services.
“Simple things like accommodation and affordable parking can make all the difference – and should be available to all. Rapid action needs to be taken so that all services, wherever they are in the country, provide the facilities that babies and their parents need during these very difficult times.”