Improve support for families in England

Mum tube feeding her baby in an incubator

There is a widespread lack of facilities and support for parents at neonatal units across England, preventing parents from being closely involved in their babies' care.

Research shows that premature and sick babies' health is improved when their parents are supported to take the lead in care such as through skin to skin care, breastfeeding and comfort holding.

One of the biggest barriers to families is a lack of overnight accommodation on or near the neonatal unit. As a result, parents across the country are having to cut their time with their baby short so they go home to sleep.

More than a third of all units do not have dedicated accommodation for parents of critically ill babies who live many miles from home, and only five out of 29 neonatal intensive care units have enough accommodation to meet national standards.

Overnight accommodation is not a 'nice to have'. It is an essential part of neonatal services and vital for allowing parents to participate in their baby's care.

When we raised this issue during the last Parliament the Government assured us that £37 million was provided over two years to improve maternity and neonatal units across the country.

But the reality is that only one percent of this investment actually went to neonatal services to improve their facilities for families.

1 in 3

units do not have accommodation for parents of critically ill babies

Fewer than 1 in 5

NICUs have enough overnight rooms for parents of critically ill babies


of neonatal units have no or very limited kitchen facilities

"I was often exhausted and begged to be allowed to stay overnight so that I could do my baby's feed at 10pm. But I had no choice but to go home at 7pm each night."

Nicola, mum of Charlie born at 27 weeks

What we are calling for

We want the government to

  • Review parking guidance to include ‘family members responsible for providing direct care to patients’ as a separate category to ‘visitors’, recommend free parking for this group, and ensure compliance.

We want NHS Trusts and commissioners to

  • Ensure plans are drawn up to bring sites into line with the standards set out in the Toolkit for high quality neonatal services.

We want NHS Trusts to

  • Find short-term alternatives to combat the accommodation and kitchen shortages, such as B&Bs and meal vouchers.
  • Review meal cost schemes, parking policies, and access and concession criteria to ensure parents can spend as much time with their baby in hospital as they would like.

We want neonatal units to

  • Adopt the Bliss Baby Charter and use the audit toolkit.
  • Inform parents of the support available, including ensuring there is a designated family support lead, and clearly signposting sources of support on the website and in parents’ welcome pack.