YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED: Chesterfield’s Sunshine Nursery closure

Clare Farmer and Lauren Hucknall with their children who are upset about the nursery's closure.
Clare Farmer and Lauren Hucknall with their children who are upset about the nursery's closure.

The Sunshine Nursery based at Walton Hospital, in Whitecotes Lane, Chesterfield, will shut on July 31 after 25 years.

At the end of March, parents attended a meeting organised by Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Foundation Trust – READ MORE HERE

Following on from that heated meeting, the trust has produced the below Q&A for concerned parents.

1. Why is the nursery closing?

For some time now there has been a national acknowledgment of the importance of pre-school education and a drive to integrate nurseries more closely with the early years education programme. As an NHS organisation operating a nursery service we recognise this is moving us away from our core business of providing specialist community health services for local people.

Such services include inpatient and outpatient community hospital services such as those provided from Walton, Bolsover and others across Derbyshire and community nursing such as district nursing and health visiting delivered in the community and in people’s homes.

2. You mention the service “has been operating at a significant financial loss”. What does this mean?

We’ve been reviewing the use and operation of Sunshine Nursery for some time, including the financial viability of running the service. For the 2013/14 financial year the service made losses in excess of £12,000 every month, more than £147,000 for the year. In 2014/15 losses amounted to £133,000. Clearly this cannot be sustained.

3. When will the nursery actually close?

The nursery will close at the end of Friday, July 31 2015. We wanted to give parents suitable notice to make alternative arrangements for their children and will offer all the support we can.

4. What can we do to save the nursery?

The very difficult decision has been made to close the nursery because as an NHS organisation our focus needs to be on the provision of high quality community health services for local people, such as those referenced above. Continuing to operate a nursery service is moving our focus away from this.

5. Do you realise it has been open for almost 25 years?

Yes – the service has seen thousands of babies, toddlers and young children through its doors. It has a great history and the decision to close it was a very difficult one for everyone concerned. We want to offer as much support as possible to staff and to parents.

6. Have you considered other agencies to undertake the maintenance contracts?

The decision has been made to close the nursery because as an NHS organisation our focus needs to be on the provision of high quality community health services for local people. Continuing to operate a nursery service is moving our focus away from this.

7. What about the nursery staff?

We are working hard to support our employees and are actively seeking redeployment options within the organisation and talking to staff to see how individual needs can be supported.

8. Can’t another company take on the management of the nursery?

If another organisation wanted to take over the nursery they would be legally obliged to transfer our staff over to their employment on their existing terms and conditions which include generous annual leave entitlements, sickness benefits, a generous pension scheme as well as all current Agenda for Change (pay) terms and conditions. For private sector nursery providers this would not present an attractive business proposition.

9. Why has there been no public consultation?

This service is not part of our core business – the delivery of high quality community health services – nor are we commissioned to deliver a nursery service. For those reasons we are not required to consult formally with public on the future of the service.

10. Why were parents not told about this sooner?

We shared the news as soon as we were able to. We wanted to give our staff and colleagues the courtesy of hearing the news first on Monday evening, then first thing on Tuesday morning we informed parents. We hope that the end of July closure will provide everybody with a suitable notice period in order to make alternative arrangements for their children. We will continue to offer our staff and parents as much support as possible.

11. What other options have been explored and why have parents not had the opportunity to review those?

We looked at three broad options for the future of the nursery including: private provision/takeover; no change and closure of the nursery. Opting to close the nursery was a very difficult one for everyone concerned and we will offer as much support as possible to our staff and to parents.

This service is not part of our core business – the delivery of high quality community health services – nor are we commissioned to deliver a nursery service. For those reasons we are not required to consult formally with public on the future of the service.

12. The letter states “significant financial loss” – I can’t see this clearly stated in the 2013/14 annual report?

Annual reporting requirements are standardised across the NHS. NHS organisations are given specific guidance they must stick to when reporting on a financial position. An annual report wouldn’t go into the detailed finances of specific services, but we can confirm that for the 2013/14 financial year the service made losses in excess of £12,000 every month, more than £147,000 for the year. In 2014/15 losses amounted to £133,000. Clearly this cannot be sustained.

13. Have the needs of children actually been considered here?

The service has seen thousands of babies, toddlers and young children through its doors. It has a great history and the decision to close it was a very difficult one for everyone concerned, and not one we took lightly. We are committed to offering as much support as possible and a suitable notice period in order for parents to make alternative arrangements for their children.

As an NHS organisation operating a nursery service we recognise this is moving us away from our core business of providing specialist community health services for local people.

14. I can’t see the closure proposal in the public board papers?

The decision to close the nursery was taken at the Trust Management Executive – a meeting chaired by the chief executive with a membership including directors and other senior staff. This is not a meeting in public as we are not required to consult formally with public on the future of the service.

15. As a foundation trust, options such as consultations to amend pay, protected pay and other agenda for change terms and conditions could have considered for staff. Why in this instance has it gone straight to closure? Our email says “private companies won’t want it” but it doesn’t seem to have been considered?

We are fully committed to nationally-agreed Agenda for Change arrangements and indeed proud of our Living Wage Employer status.

We looked at three broad options for the future of the nursery which included private provision/takeover, but unfortunately the very difficult decision was taken to close the nursery from the end of July this year.

16. I acknowledge the trust has subsidised the nursery in areas such as HR support and catering support, again had it considered other options such as these areas going out to tender? If so why have parents not had the chance to review rejected proposals?

This service is not part of our core business – the delivery of high quality community health services – nor are we commissioned to deliver a nursery service. For those reasons we are not required to consult formally with public on the future of the service.

17. Is the closure linked to the recent planning application for the development on the Walton site?

We have an obligation to utilise our estate and buildings for the provision of high quality NHS services. The reason for the closure is to allow us, as an NHS organisation, to focus on our core business of providing specialist community health services for local people and to make best use of public money in order to do so. It is not linked to the planning application.

18. Do you feel you have supported us (parents) adequately? We should have had this meeting two months ago...

We wanted to make sure parents had suitable notice to make alternative arrangements for their children and will continue to offer all the support we can. The Family Information Service from Derbyshire County Council is now working closely with us and will offer support advice to parents. If you weren’t able to attend the parents’ meeting, you can contact the Family Information Service here.

We must also comply with employment legislation in relation to redundancy consultations; we are legally bound to undertake a 30-day formal consultation with our employees. There is normally a gap of at least a week to provide feedback after the consultation and the contractual redundancy notice period is a maximum of 12 weeks (linked to the length of continuous NHS service). With this in mind, starting the consultation any earlier would only have brought forward the closure.

19. I chose Sunshine Nursery because it’s not financially driven; it is aimed at providing a quality service.

Absolutely, and we’re very proud of that and the legacy that the nursery will leave. Our team at Sunshine Nursery has provided a fantastic service over the years and has seen thousands of babies, toddlers and young children in that time. The nursery has a great history and the decision to close it was a very difficult one for everyone concerned.

20. When was Derbyshire County Council informed of the closure?

We informed Derbyshire County Council of the closure on the morning of Tuesday, March 24, as soon as we had told staff and parents.

21. Why close at the end of July and not August when the older children will be leaving? I am struggling to find a nursery that will take my child on for such a short time.

We have now had the opportunity to fully consider this request and, regrettably, we are not able to extend the notice period beyond July 31 2015.

We have started the formal consultation with our staff, after which notice will be served. Staff are actively seeking redeployment within the trust, the wider NHS and even non-NHS employment, and we are also receiving notice from parents who have found alternative arrangements for their children.

We therefore cannot guarantee we can meet the required child to staff ratios if we were to extend to the end of August. Any extension may also risk offers of alternative employment for our staff.

22. If you knew you were losing money, why didn’t you look into it? Why haven’t you looked at increasing fees or approaching the parents to help with fundraising?

In order to close the gap on the money, the increase in fees would need to be 40 per cent. And as the financial deficit is a recurrent one, one-off fundraising is not a realistic option unfortunately.

We also recognise that as an NHS organisation our focus needs to be on the provision of high quality community health services for local people – continuing to operate a nursery is shifting our focus away from this.

23. Will the nursery continue to run ‘as is’ until the end of July? We want your word that you aren’t going to start emptying any part of the building while the children are still there...

We guarantee that nothing will be removed or affected in the lead up to the nursery’s closure. We are committed to making the last few months a celebration of the nursery’s great history.

24. Communication about the parents’ meeting was poor – we only found out via Facebook?

We decided to hand out the invite letters on Thursday and Friday the week before the meeting; we were concerned that if we relied on post alone we wouldn’t give parents enough notice of the meeting. Obviously we wanted as many parents as possible to attend and agree that we should have posted the letters as well to reach any parents not using the nursery on those days. We are very sorry if you didn’t hear about the meeting directly from us.

25. Will the hospital close?

There are no plans to close Walton Hospital – we are absolutely committed to improving the already high quality community health services for local people and are planning to further develop facilities at the site to help us achieve this aim.

26. Do you realise there is a shortage of nurseries in Chesterfield and the surrounding area?

The issue raised about the shortage of nurseries is a very important one. It is the responsibility of the government and local authorities to put right, not the NHS. Toby Perkins also articulated this very well in his response to parents’ questions, saying we need to raise awareness of this issue.

27. Will we be reimbursed our registration fees if we only joined recently?

We will need to consider each case individually, but we are committed to reimbursing parents appropriately. We will update parents next week with our proposal for the reimbursement of fees.