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Trusts and CCGs must take ‘rapid action’ to meet vital neonatal guidelines

Families of premature and sick babies are unable to help care for their children because many NHS trusts are failing to meet the guidelines on proper facilities.

Research from the charity Bliss has found that one in seven neonatal units provide no, or very limited, facilities and financial support for families.

The NHS Toolkit for High-Quality Neonatal Services says that units should, as a minimum, provide families with accommodation and kitchen facilities.

However, 38% of units did not have dedicated accommodation for families, and only 17% met the Toolkit standards of one room for every cot. Furthermore, 13% had no kitchen facilities.

Academic research suggests babies have better long-term health outcomes when their parents are able to care for them and provide skin-to-skin contact. Families also reported additional £282-a-week expenses for food, travel and accommodation while their baby was in a unit.

Since pregnant women from low-income backgrounds have a higher risk of premature births and complications, this means the costs were falling on families who could least afford them.

These even include parking costs, which have increased at 49% of trusts with a neonatal unit since 2013.

Caroline Davey, chief executive of Bliss, said: “The findings of this report show how crucial it is for babies to have their parents with them, caring for them, comforting them and protecting them - just as every new parent wants to do.

“NHS trusts, hospitals, commissioners and the government must take action to enable this to happen for every family, to give every baby born premature or sick the best chance of survival and quality of life.”

Bliss said that neonatal units should adopt the Bliss Baby Charter and conduct an audit to see where services need to be improved.

In addition, it said that trusts should ensure plans for future redevelopment of hospital sites meet the charter’s requirements.

It also recommended that the government revises the rules on hospital parking to ensure family members are classified separately from ‘visitors’ where they are providing direct care to patients, and are given free parking.

Commenting on the findings, 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.”

The NHS has committed itself to improving maternity care following the publication of the National Maternity Review in February.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists also recently published a report saying families must be more involved in reviews of their baby’s care in cases of stillbirths and neonatal deaths and brain injuries.

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