Parents aren't visitors: Northern Ireland

Mum caressing premature baby in an incubator. Baby attached to various tubes

A neonatal experience is always extremely difficult, and there can be many barriers which prevent parents from being with their baby. But COVID-19 is making this even worse. Help Bliss and TinyLife take action now.

Parents aren't visitors. Babies have the very best long-term developmental outcomes if their parents are able to be partners in delivering their baby's care on the neonatal unit.

Please sign our petition now and help us call on the Northern Ireland Executive to put a package of support in place to make sure parents are able to make the most of every opportunity to be with their premature or sick baby.

What is the issue?

Family budgets are tighter than ever with many families experiencing job insecurity as a result of the pandemic. Parents have previously reported to Bliss and TinyLife that having a baby in neonatal care in Northern Ireland adds, on average, £229 on top of normal household expenses for every week their baby is in hospital. These costs come from daily travel to hospital, food & drink, accommodation and childcare for older children.

At the same time units across Northern Ireland - and across the UK - are limiting who can be on neonatal units, including restricting access to parents.

Understandably, parents who have symptoms of COVID-19 will not be able to go onto the neonatal unit at all. Following current guidance, they may be separated from their baby for two weeks. Rapid testing care reduces this significantly if a negative test is returned.

What do we want to happen?

Bliss and TinyLife want the Northern Ireland Executive, along with other UK Governments, to remove as many barriers as possible to parents being involved in their baby's care.

We want to see the Northern Ireland Executive:

  • Introduce a nationally coordinated fund to provide financial support to parents - in line with the support for travel, food and accommodation which already exists in Scotland.
  • Support neonatal units across Northern Ireland to prioritise rapid testing of parents suspected to have COVID-19 to minimise unnecessary separation.
  • Extend the remit of free parking provided to NHS staff to include parents with a baby in neonatal care in recognition that that parents are essential care-givers and are not visitors.
  • Commit to introducing Neonatal Leave and Pay in line with proposals set out by the UK Government.

Why is this best for babies?

Evidence clearly shows that babies have the very best outcomes when their parents are able to be partners in delivering their baby's care.

Parents are not visitors. They are a key part of the their baby's care team. Not only does this have benefits for babies, but the whole family. This involvement has been shown to reduced stress and anxiety in parents, and foster strong bonding and secure attachment.

This is vital as parents whose baby has had a neonatal experience are more likely to have negative mental health outcomes. Research from Bliss has found 80% of parents felt their mental health was negatively affected by their baby's neonatal experience.