“ONE IN EVERY FIVE MUMS OF PREMATURE BABIES SUFFER MENTAL ILL HEALTH” Parents face extra costs of £2,000 MP Steve Reed tells Commons
The stress of watching their prematurely-born baby struggling to live leaves one in every five mums of premature babies with mental ill health, says Croydon North MP Steve Reed.
And on average parents of premature babies spend an extra £2,000 on the costs of overnight accommodation, hospital parking and eating in expensive hospital cafeterias, he told fellow MPs.
His comments came during a Commons debate (December 14th) on Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond’s Autumn statement to Parliament (November 23rd.)
Mr Reed said he wanted to focus on the plight of parents of premature babies – “a group that really is struggling to manage”.
The autumn statement was a missed opportunity to offer them the better help they need, he added.
“Although maternity provision in the UK is generally good by international standards, it does not work for parents whose babies are born long before their due date. “These tiny babies, born too soon to live without medical support, can be on life support in incubators for weeks, or even months.
“The parents cannot hold them because they are encased in machinery with wires, tubes and bleeping monitors as they fight for their lives.
“Paid maternity leave lasts for about six months, but it is triggered the moment the child is born; there is no flexibility if the baby spends several of those first vital months inside an incubator on a special care unit.
“That means that the child is doubly disadvantaged, first by being born too weak and frail to live without medical support and with illnesses that can often last for years, and secondly by being denied the full period of time that healthier babies get to bond with their parents.
“Holding, cuddling and breastfeeding are all vital to a baby’s healthy development, but a premature baby never gets back the time they spend in an incubator.
“The stress of watching their baby struggling to live leaves one in every five mums of premature babies with mental ill health, which is another issue that the autumn statement ignored.
“On average, the parents of premature babies spend an extra £2,000 on the costs of overnight accommodation, hospital parking and eating in expensive hospital cafeterias.
“For many parents, that is money they simply do not have, and it pushes many into debt that they struggle to get out of afterwards.
“It is difficult not just for mums but for dads, too. They still only get 10 days’ paid paternity leave, even if their baby is born months early, so at a time when their newborn child is fighting for its life and the child’s mother needs help the most, many dads are sent straight back to work.
“Those parents need an extension of paid maternity and paternity leave that takes into account how premature their baby is.
“There would be a relatively small up-front cost to the Government, but it would save far more public money in the long term by keeping parents in work, helping vulnerable babies to develop more healthily by having that vital time to bond, reducing mothers’ mental ill health and reducing the child’s need for later medical interventions.
“Of course, the human benefit for families would be way beyond any financial calculation.”
Mr Reed, who took a group of campaigners and mums of premature babies to share their stories with the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Margot James, added:
“I hope that the Government will reflect on the damage they have done to families these past six years and, in this case at least, do the right thing and support parents who need us to do the right thing for them so that they can do the right thing for their families.” (Sources: TheyWorkForYou / Hansard)
Further reading: “It is time the law recognised the special needs of premature babies’ parents by extending their leave so they can give their vulnerable, tiny babies all the love and care they need and deserve” – Steve Reed MP’s speech to the House of Commons (News From Crystal Palace 27th October 2016)