Parents of premature children 'need cash help'
The mother of premature twin girls has spoken of the need for better financial support for struggling parents with seriously ill babies in neo-natal care.
Christina and Stephen Shiels faced travelling from Ballymoney to Belfast and back home every day for weeks to be at the bedside of their girls Chloe and Taylor after they were born at 25 weeks.
"Chloe weighed 1lb 6oz and Taylor was 1lb 9oz," she said.
"They were born in Altnagelvin but had to be transferred to the Royal in Belfast.
"The first few weeks you have so much going on in your mind you don't really think about finances. But we spent £160 a week from Ballymoney to Belfast and back every day. That was for petrol and the cost of having to eat in the unit. We were living out of vending machines and canteens."
Christina was speaking after a report by NI charity TinyLife and Bliss, the UK special care baby charity, revealed parents of premature babies face extra weekly costs of £220.
Couples could end up paying more than £1,300 for parking, food, childcare and loss of earnings. There are almost 2,000 babies born prematurely in Northern Ireland every year.
"A lot of the time I had to try and travel with family - sometimes I would take the train or try and get a lift with people who were working in Belfast," Christina said. "We had money set aside for the girls for cots and had to eat into that which was for them. If there was accommodation or food vouchers for parents it would make such a difference and let them focus on the babies."
The findings, based on the experiences of 192 parents, showed 91% felt their finances had worsened as a result of having a baby in neonatal care. The charities made recommendations to the Assembly that included free accommodation, as well as meal vouchers or free hospital meals.