Parents with children in hospital can face a loss of income of €300 a week on top of other non-medical costs such as travel, parking and accommodation, it has been revealed.
The group Children in Hospital Ireland is calling on the Government to introduce a social protection payment to help parents struggling with these financial burdens.
Loss of income can result from taking time off work or even giving up employment entirely in some cases.
In its pre-Budget submission, the group said other non-medical costs could be as high as €100 a day during a child’s hospitalisation.
Anna Gunning, the chief executive of Children in Hospital Ireland, said: “Parents are a vital part of the care team when their child is sick. This means that they spend lengthy periods of time in hospital with their child, which can have significant financial consequences.
“Parents are faced with additional expenses, while also finding it very difficult to engage in paid employment.
“The median loss in income experienced by parents surveyed by Children in Hospital Ireland was €300 a week.
“One-third of parents surveyed had given up work to care for their sick child. A majority reported a negative financial impact and concerns about their finances due to their child being in hospital.
“We are particularly concerned about the impact on parents whose child requires long-term hospitalisation and repeated visits, as they are likely to be the most impacted.
“Even before recent developments, families with children in hospital were struggling with a cost-of-living crisis. The financial challenges of the past few months have been acutely felt by these families and are becoming increasingly unsustainable.”
The organisation called for a new social protection payment and said the current supports available are limited and fail to account for the unique and complex challenges arising from a child’s hospitalisation.
It is proposing a payment to assist parents with children who have prolonged stays in hospital or who require frequent hospital attendance.
“This payment would go some way to address the financial hardship faced by parents and would acknowledge the critical role they play in caring for their sick child,” it said.
“The cost of this payment to the Exchequer would be minimal, but it would be transformative for parents. Only a small minority of the total number of children who receive hospital care each year have prolonged stays or require repeat attendances.”
Significant costs faced by parents include travel and parking, food, accommodation, childcare for other children and mental health supports, it said.
Separately, early next month, acute in-patient hospital charges for children aged under 16 will be abolished.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said that currently, public patients, including children, are subject to a statutory public inpatient charge of €80 per night, up to a maximum of 10 nights (€800) in a 12-month period.
Medical card holders are exempt from these charges. Legislation has now been passed to abolish the public in-patient charge for under-16s.
President Michael D Higgins signed the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Act 2022 into law earlier this summer.
The hope is that it will take effect in early September.