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£175k repair bill puts Royal Free staff nursery under threat of closure

Union boss says closure could cause "severe" staff recruitment problems for hospital in Hampstead

05 March, 2021 — By Harry Taylor

Banner outside the Royal Free Hospital Staff Day Nursery in Pond Street

THE day nursery for staff at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead could close over a £175,000 repair bill, with the Trust consulting on its future.

A banner went up up on railings outside the nursery’s main site in Pond Street, opposite hospital, saying “The ‘Royal Free Nursery’ is under threat to be closed down. Please help us to continue giving NHS staff a place for childcare while they fight to save lives.” It has since been removed.

The nursery, which has another site behind the hospital, “Busy Bees”, looks after 20 children but had a capacity of more than double that number before repair works were judged to be needed by Ofsted and the Trust.

Jim Mansfield, the Unison branch secretary for staff at the hospital. said it “no-brainer” that the repairs should be carried out to allow the nursery to return to full capacity. Current alternatives to closure include parents crowdfunding for the repairs, or the Trust paying for it and the nursery paying back an internal long-term loan over a number of years.

He said: “I’m not sure how we’ve got to this situation, because the nursery is needed.

“There will be severe recruitment and retention problems if we don’t keep it. Then if you do close it, that money you’ll save, you’ll end up spending on recruiting and hiring new staff.

“It’s key to get repairs done, and then we can get it full up to capacity with the kids. When it was at capacity before, it was breaking even or making money. The problem at the moment is it hasn’t got the capacity because those repairs need doing.

“Some of the numbers seem expensive, but that’s NHS procurement, which means it might not even be £175,000.”

A notice published by Ofsted last month said a “significant event” at the nursery had been reported to the regulator in late November 2020.

When asked, the Royal Free London NHS Hospital Trust did not give details of what happened or the steps that had been taken to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.

The New Journal understands that an investigation is continuing but it did not involve a child being injured.

A spokesperson for the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The Royal Free London is consulting with staff and parents over the future of two nurseries at the Royal Free Hospital which are used by approximately 20 children.

“No decision has yet been taken and there will be no immediate changes, and any final decisions will be made after the outcome of the consultation has been considered by the Trust.”

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