The Hidden Cost of Having a Child in Hospital in Northern Ireland

Showcasing Ulster's research in transforming health, this research was carried out with the NI Children's Health Coalition.

10 Nov 2023   3 min read

The Hidden Cost of Having a Child in Hospital in Northern Ireland

Research Launch

Ulster University and The NI Children’s Health Coalition launched their research on the Hidden Costs of Having a Child in Hospital on 19 June 2023. This research report was livestreamed from Stormont, sponsored by Robin Swann MLA, Colm Gildernew MLA and Paula Bradshaw MLA.

There were four aims the report wished to address:

  1. Establish the financial costs associated with having a child who has received inpatient hospital care in Northern Ireland.
  2. Understand if caregivers think their physical and mental health is impacted by having a child experience inpatient care.
  3. Understand how caregivers psychologically cope with having a child experience inpatient care.
  4. Identify what caregivers would like to see change to support them and their children.

A survey was created for parents and caregivers of children who had received inpatient hospital care in Northern Ireland within the last 18 months, varying across a wide range of health issues including cancer, congenital heart disease, spina bifida, liver failure as well as illnesses associated with premature birth and complex genetic disorders.

Research Outputs

This research found that the average inpatient stay was 28 days, and the average distance from home to hospital being 40.3 miles. Hidden costs implicated with this information include public transport, taxis, petrol, tolls and parking, with additional costs including treats for the children, reading materials and phone data. The average cost for food and drink per day was found to be £38.

73.1% of respondents also stated that their physical health had taken a moderate to extremely negative impact by having a child in hospital, with 76.5% stating their mental health had taken a moderate to extremely negative impact. Over 50% of respondents had accessed additional services due to having a child in hospital, including physiotherapy, visits to the GP and counselling/psychology.


The conclusions of the research found that there are clear hidden costs associated with having a child receive inpatient care in hospital, that may be detrimental to the parent/caregivers physical and mental health.

From this research report, NI Children’s Health Coalition along with 13 charities are calling for a Young Patient’s fund in Northern Ireland, to help families and caregivers cover the hidden costs of having a child in hospital.

Professor Victoria Simms and Professor Nicola Doherty from Ulster University authored this report, with the NI Children’s Health Coalition – where co-chairs included TinyLife and The Children’s Heartbeat Trust.

Quote from Professor Victoria Simms

“It was a pleasure to work in collaboration with the Children's Health Coalition, who represent a number of children's charities in NI, on this report. Parents obviously prioritise the health and well-being of their children and young people. However, we discovered the substantial financial, physical and psychological burdens of having a child who is experiencing inpatient care. Families identified actions that would support them throughout these stays- from "simple" actions such as having access to kitchen facilities near wards to clearer pathways to financial and psychological support. In Scotland the introduction of the Young Patients Family Fund has alleviated some of these identified financial pressures. Based on the findings of our report, the Children's Health Coalition calls for the introduction of a similar scheme in NI.”

Professor Victoria Simms

Research Director School of Psychology