Letter: The cost of visiting a sick child

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The Independent Online
Sir: 1994 is the Year of the Family. It is also the year in which the Government has issued its first report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

A survey published last year showed that many families suffer severe financial hardship as a result of visiting their sick child in hospital: 5.6 per cent of families go into debt; 12 per cent said they would have nothing left at the end of the week to cover visiting costs, and more than a quarter said they would like to visit more. The only statutory help available is from the Social Fund but this is discretionary and many families are refused assistance; it also fails to help anyone who is not on income support.

As a group of charities and professionals, we, the undersigned, see many families who are overwhelmed by financial stress at a time of high emotional strain. Our campaign, Too Dear to Visit, is supported by more than 60 professional and voluntary organisations, by many individual professionals and parents, as well as by around 150 MPs from all parties. Last week we renewed our call to the Government to reimburse parents with the cost of visiting their sick child in hospital. In the context of total treatment, visiting could represent a tiny proportion. It is estimated that a further pounds 7.5m would meet this need.

Government ministers have listened to the arguments and promised to keep the situation under review. The Department of Health issued guidance in 1991 highlighting the crucial importance of parents being with their children in hospital. It is shown that it helps with the speedy recovery of the child and parents learn vital information on how to look after their child when he or she returns home.

We hope the Government will mark this important year by implementing this modest measure and so alleviate some of the considerable stress for those families with a sick child in hospital.

Yours sincerely,

ANNE FRAGNIERE, Director, Action for Sick Children; CHRISTINE HANCOCK, General Secretary, Royal College of Nursing; MARGARET A. BUTTIGIEG, General Secretary, Health Visitors Association; TOBY HARRIS, Director, Association of Community Health Councils of England and Wales; DONAL DONNELLY-WOOD, Head of Social Work, Malcolm Sargent Cancer Fund; JUDY KAY, Director, Baby Life and Support Systems; HARRY MARSH, Director, Contact a Family; KEITH DODD, Honorary Secretary, British Paediatric Association; DAVID JONES, General Secretary, British Association of Social Workers; PHILIPPA RUSSELL, Director, Council for Disabled Children; ELIZABETH WARD, President, British Kidney Patient Association; CATHERINE ARKLEY, Director, Children's Liver Disease Foundation

London, NW1

9 May

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