Closures of low-cost nurseries ‘will drive staff from NHS’

King's College Hospital sign

Protesting South London health workers warned today (19 April) that they could be forced out iof the NHS if two affordable workplace nurseries are closed without alternatives.

The Cedar House Nursery, used by staff at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, and the King’s College Hospital Day Nursery, are due to close next year for development of the building they share.

UNISON, the trade union representing health staff, said neither trust appears to be planning to offer parents dependent on the facilities alternative childcare provision.

Staff, who are already under pressure, are anxious at the prospect of having to find new, more expensive childcare.

They were due to join a protest at 1pm today outside the Cedar House nursery at Mapother House, De Crespigny Park, Camberwell, to urge managers to think again.

Brixton MP Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) was planning to attend the protest.

Managers’ refusal to provide staff with alternative childcare for the five years while the work takes place has bewildered parents, unions and local politicians, UNISON said.

Vacancies across the NHS are in the tens of thousands, making it harder for working parents to stay in the health service, or to re-join the workforce, so the closures make little sense, the union added.

Twenty nursery worker jobs are also on the line because managers at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust have refused to guarantee workers their jobs when the Cedars nursery reopens.

“Worried staff at King’s College Hospital Day Nursery don’t even know if their nursery will reopen at all,” UNISON said. 

“Staff are also nervous that hospital managers will use the closures as cover to privatise the nurseries – driving standards down, prices up and highly-trained nursery staff out of work.”

Nursery user and Maudsley hospital psychiatrist Dr Rowena Carter said: “The nursery is a real lifeline for me and my family. Having quality childcare right next to my workplace makes being a working parent so much easier.

“The nursery staff have been amazing throughout the pandemic.

“Because the nursery remained open, when many other childcare providers were shut, it meant frontline NHS staff like me were still able to be a key worker and a parent during the pandemic.

“Without the nursery I won’t be able to continue the additional patient care work I do now.”

UNISON’s head of health, Sara Gorton, said: “Hospital-based childcare is crucial in allowing NHS staff to work long shifts.

“Many often work outside normal working hours when other nurseries are closed.

“It’s hard enough finding childcare spaces in London, let alone those flexible enough to fit around the working patterns of health employees.

“The NHS is under huge pressure and trust managers should be doing all they can to hold on to staff.

“Closing essential support services will place immense stress on employees forced to look for alternative childcare. Others may well quit for jobs elsewhere.

“Hospital bosses must think again, or they could lose experienced staff needed to see the service through the difficult months and years ahead.”

Helen Hayes said: “Cedar House Nursery provides vital high quality and affordable childcare on site for staff working at the Maudsley and the wider community.

“Parents working at the Maudsley are deeply worried about finding affordable local childcare if the nursery closes, whilst staff there need meaningful guarantees that they will be retained on the same terms and conditions.

“Senior managers at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust must work with UNISON to protect jobs at Cedar House and ensure continuity of nursery provision throughout the redevelopment.”