HARTLEPOOL MP Iain Wright has asked the Secretary of State for Health to launch a probe after two hospital nurseries lost a staggering £764,000 in four years.
The spiralling cost of running the Rainbow Day Nursery, at the University Hospital of Hartlepool, and its counterpart at North Tees in Stockton, was revealed at a hospital trust board meeting.
Mr Wright has written to hospital trust chief executive Alan Foster expressing his concerns over how the decision came to be made.
And he has demanded answers in Parliament from Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt, about the running of nurseries in hospitals nationally and locally.
Mr Wright said: “I can’t believe it has been allowed to go on for four years.
“Serious questions need to be asked how these nurseries continued to make a loss of such magnitude for so long.”
North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust announced last Wednesday that both nurseries are to shut by the end of the year after becoming unviable.
They were set up to allow hospital staff to be able to continue working and access childcare at a lower cost than private sector nurseries.
They were later opened up to families in the wider communities.
But the nurseries are predicted to lose the trust £226,000 this financial year.
And the losses have steadily mounted over the years from £165,000 in both in 2011-12 and 2012-13, to £208,000 last year.
Mr Wright has asked Jeremy Hunt to examine if other hospital trusts up and down the country are also losing money or if lessons can be learned by local hospital leaders.
He said: “It’s quite clear this is a staggering amount of money which could have been spent on front-line services.
“If private sector nurseries make profits, surely the management need to look if this could have been run better.”
Trust chief executive, Alan Foster, told the board measures had been taken including opening them up to non-staff.
Mr Foster said: “Over the years the trust has been substantially propping up nurseries that were uneconomic.
“We are at the stage where from my point of view we ought to be spending health money on providing health care and we can’t be using it to subsidise nurseries that aren’t even just for the staff.”
He said the loss of council grants and falling numbers have added to the spiralling costs.
Mr Foster said: “Over the years the numbers of staff users have fallen and less than half of the children in our nurseries are staff children.
“When the numbers started falling we took the decision to open the doors to the general public just to be able to keep them viable but over time the local authorities have withdrawn their grants to the trust in support of the nurseries.”
Steve Hall, a non-executive board member said “all opportunities” had been investigated to try and save the nurseries including finding other operators to take over or work in partnership.
“It is regrettable,” he said.
Around 60 nursery staff from the two sites are now facing the axe.
All parents affected have now been written to and a 30-day consultation is ongoing to try to find other jobs in the trust for the staff members.