Blog post by Ben Wills-Eve
I arranged for my local MP Esther McVey, Member of Parliament for Wirral West and Minister of State for Employment, to visit the neonatal unit and Ronald McDonald House at Wirral Women and Children’s Hospital in Arrowe Park, Merseyside. The aim of the visit was to raise awareness of Bliss’ current ‘It’s not a game’ campaign which focuses on the additional financial costs faced by parents when their premature or sick baby is in hospital.
From my perspective, organising this visit was not as difficult as it first felt. Making initial contact with your MP can seem the most daunting part of the process, however there is no reason why it should be. Whether you meet them face-to-face, through a constituency surgery meeting, or speak via email, asking your MP if they would like to visit your local unit is really all about you. Tell them why you want them to visit, in terms of your experience and highlighting Bliss’ work and current campaigns, and crucially why it is important to you; what is your story? Suggesting a visit in this manner is a good way to engage your MP with the unit’s work, Bliss’ work, and with your own experience.
Upon agreement of a visit, or even if your MP just expresses an interest, your job now becomes more focused. Your first job will be to contact Bliss, who will find a suitable unit for your MP to visit. They will support you in liaising with your MP and unit, to organise the day and come up with an itinerary for the visit. Aside from practical issues, such as transport and parking, other things to consider include whether any regular events or group meetings you might want to showcase take place at the neonatal unit on certain days. One of the real successes of our unit visit was the weekly NeoMates group at the hospital’s Ronald McDonald House, which was taking place on the day more down to luck than planning, hence the importance of finding these things out in advance!
Esther was given a tour of the neonatal unit by staff, including doctors, nurses, managers and the hospital’s Director of Nursing, before meeting the NeoMates parent group in the Ronald McDonald House, replete with homemade cakes.
Ronald McDonald Houses provide accommodation for parents whose children or babies are ill in hospital. The House at Arrowe Park is one of the largest in the North West, catering for parents who have premature babies being treated on the unit. Many hospitals do not have this sort of service to offer parents, who often have to travel many miles a day and incur heavy parking charges in order to be with their premature baby, which is what Bliss’ campaign is about. The extra cost of travel and accommodation, on top of meal costs and having to take unexpected time off work only adds to an already incredibly stressful experience. So, the main aim of the visit was to portray just how vital the support for parents provided by the neonatal unit and Ronald McDonald House is.
The NeoMates group offers parents and their little ones the chance to meet up, keep in contact with each other and share their experiences of caring for their babies at home. Parents were keen to praise not only the tireless work of the staff on the unit in caring for their sick babies, but also the invaluable support given by the House and the group. The visit was a great success and Esther was very impressed by the unit, the House and most importantly the team of staff who make the department such a friendly place.
Unit visits are not only a great way of promoting Bliss’ campaigns; they also highlight the work and needs of your local unit to your most important governmental contact: your MP. As a campaigner, the process of organising such an event, along with the day itself, helps build a bond with your MP that is crucial to maintaining a strong and successful working relationship.
If you are inspired by Ben’s story and would like to arrange a unit visit for your MP, please contact the Campaigns team on firstname.lastname@example.org