The NHS’s biggest mental health trust has been accused of undermining its own workforce’s wellbeing by shutting its staff nursery, despite it being a “lifeline” for them.
Dozens of doctors, nurses and other staff at the South London and Maudsley (SLaM) trust in the capital face having to find alternative childcare because of its decision.
The loss of the nursery has provoked frustration and anger among staff. They claim that the closure is adding to the stress levels being experienced by overstretched staff and makes a mockery of the trust’s commitment to improving its personnel’s working lives.
The nursery is due to close its doors in summer next year as part of a massive redevelopment of the trust’s site, including the demolition of Mapother House, where it is based. It and other old buildings are being demolished as part of a scheme to give the trust new treatment facilities that is being financed partly by the construction of 187 new homes on its land.
Staff and health unions have warned that the closure will deepen the trust’s problems in recruiting and retaining enough staff to care for adults and children with serious mental health problems.
Staff affected are worried that, while the trust plans to include a nursery in the new buildings it will gain as a result of the redevelopment, the replacement facility will not open until 2027-28.
A trust official sought to allay staff concerns and said SLaM would provide a temporary nursery to cover the years-long gap between its closure and the new facility opening.
A petition protesting against the closure of Cedar House nursery gained more than 1,300 signatures within days and scores of staff have signed a letter expressing their “concern and dismay”.
In a section headed “staff stress and wellbeing”, the letter laments what it says is the trust’s “seeming dismissal of a valued service and its frontline workers. It seems counterproductive to remove a facility which has such a direct consequence on staff wellbeing.”
The nursery’s workers are “dedicated, compassionate and highly skilled”, and the fact that it stayed open during the Covid pandemic enabled SLaM staff to keep working when other nurseries shut, it adds. The nursery stays open for unusually long hours, helping staff who work long shifts.
One specialist children and young people’s mental health nurse, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “I’m on a lower pay scale than many and will really struggle to pay private nursery fees – our local nursery is £100 per day. That, plus a London mortgage, means I am seriously considering whether it is feasible for me to continue working in the trust should Cedar House close.”
Jamie Brown, the London head of health for the union Unison, 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.
“Closing essential support services will place immense stress on employees forced to look for alternative childcare. Others may well quit for jobs elsewhere.”
Helen Hayes, the Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, has written to the SLaM chief executive, Dr David Bradley, seeking a meeting about the closure. She is concerned about the potential loss of a facility “that parents hugely value, that offers exceptionally high quality early years education and is affordable relative to other nurseries in the local area”, she told the Guardian.
A SLaM spokesperson said: “Nursery provision is important to us and we are proactively exploring the feasibility of an established nursery company providing childcare services to staff and expect to conclude this work soon.”