Some families cannot afford to visit their children in hospital and many others face severe financial problems as a result of travelling long distances to visit, according to a survey.
Action for Sick Children is calling for government funding to cover the costs of such visits so that families can be reimbursed directly by the hospitals. Sick children must be visited according to their emotional needs and not their parents' ability to pay, the charity says.
The survey found that 6percent of the families questioned went into debt as a result of visiting their children in hospital, and 12 per cent had nothing left at the end of the week to cover visiting costs. One family had to pay 245 a week in travelling expenses, and several families lived more than 100 miles from their child's hospital.
Action for Sick Children and Contact a Family, another support group, yesterday launched a campaign - Too dear to visit - which seeks about 5m to start a fund for families facing hardship.
In 1991, the Government issued a document entitled Welfare of Children and Young People in Hospital, which states that a 'cardinal principle' of hospital services for children is a complete ease of access to the child by his or her parents.
Hospitals should enable parents to give continuous love, care and comfort to their children and, especially, to be together at the most stressful times, the document says.
Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East, who was present at the launch, said: 'The Government should now give some substance to their rhetoric and ensure all parents are financially able to vist their children.'
Dr Una Macfadyen, consultant paediatrician at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, said: 'A survey of families on our children's wards showed that 20 per cent of parents whose children were in their local children's unit were limiting their visits because of the costs of travel.'