Alison Johnstone Back to

We can do more for parents of sick and premature babies in Scotland

20 December, 2016 - 00:00

A sick child is every parent’s worst nightmare at the best of times, but it is usually just a cold or a runny nose and rarely lasts more than a few days. This is not the case for the parents of the 5,800 babies born across Scotland every year who require specialist neonatal care – so small and fragile, fighting for their life in an incubator surrounded by tubes and bleeping monitors that are helping to keep them alive.

Add to this, the anxiety of the financial pressures for a family with a baby in neonatal care. A recent report by Bliss, entitled “It’s not a game: the very real costs of having a premature or sick baby in Scotland” puts the average extra cost to families at £2,045.

That’s £218 a week being spent on things like travel, food and drink, parking charges, childcare for older children, and in some cases accommodation where a hospital cannot provide it. 79% of the parents surveyed reported that their family finances were negatively affected by their child’s stay in a neonatal care unit, with 1 in 11 struggling to meet rent or mortgage costs.

I first heard about ‘The Smallest Things’ campaign back in October, which is calling for statutory parental leave and pay to be extended for those with premature babies to account for the increased financial cost and strain on mental health; as well as to take into consideration the difference in development rates from the ‘adjusted’ birth date and increased risk of infection posed to premature babies once they are well enough to come home. Their petition to the Westminster Government has gained over 125,000 signatures at the time I am writing this.

It’s encouraging that the Maternity and Paternity Leave (Premature Birth) Bill has been introduced to the House of Commons and is due to have a second reading in March 2017 and on Wednesday 21st December, I will be leading the Green Member’s Business Debate at Holyrood calling on the Scottish Parliament to support the campaign for maternity and paternity leave and pay to be extended for parents of premature babies.

I am calling for MSPs across the political spectrum to send a clear message of support for this Bill in Westminster, and to help improve care and support for families with premature babies. There are many things parents will worry about when their baby is admitted to neonatal care, whether they can afford to be there shouldn’t be one of them.