LOW paid hospital staff have been delivered another blow after bosses decided to close their onsite nurseries with around 60 workers at risk of the axe.
The Rainbow Day Nursery, at the University Hospital of Hartlepool, and its counterpart at North Tees in Stockton are to shut by the end of the year.
It means struggling NHS staff will lose their onsite childcare which they receive at a reduced rate and face forking out top rates elsewhere.
It comes just a month after they were hit in the pocket with a five per cent increase in parking charges, much higher than their last pay offer of one per cent.
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright fears staff will struggle to be able to afford alternative childcare and also that other parents could be forced to give up work to look after their children.
The North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust says the nurseries have become uneconomic to run and are taking money from its health services budget.
It told staff on Wednesday night and they have been served with 90 days notice that the facilities are to close.
Around 20 staff are affected at Hartlepool and 40 at Stockton.
The two sites cater for 178 children of medical staff as well as for youngsters from the wider community, leaving scores of parents having to find alternative childcare.
There is potential to redeploy staff elsewhere in the trust, but staff say they are concerned that as they are trained nursery nurses there will be no other positions to fill.
One worker, who contacted the Mail, said: “We are devastated, absolutely devastated and shocked.
“There has been a lot of tears.”
Parents and Mail readers reacted angrily to the impending loss of another hospital facility on social media yesterday, branding the decision as “disgusting”.
Mr Wright has written to hospital trust chief executive Alan Foster demanding more information about the decision.
He said: “I am particularly keen to ensure that the disruption to staff and their children are minimised as much as possible, and staff on low wages will find it much more difficult to secure high quality childcare at a time when pay rises in the NHS have been largely non-existent.”
He added: “This announcement must provide uncertainty and alarm to those parents and staff affected by the closures of the nurseries at both Hartlepool and Stockton.
“I am particularly concerned that, given the high cost of childcare, many parents who use the nursery may be forced to give up work as a result of this decision.
“I have also asked how staff can be guaranteed that their employment will be safeguarded, and training opportunities provided to ensure that for those workers who wish to do so can be redeployed into other parts of the NHS trust.”
Since August, lower paid hospital staff at Hartlepool have to pay another three per cent for parking.
The minimum starting salary for a registered nurse is £21,478.
Staff earning anything over £19,268 will have to pay an extra five per cent.
Officials from the Unison union say they oppose the decision to close the nursery and are urging trust chiefs to consider other options.
Mark Edmunson, Unison area organiser, said: “This will have a devastating impact on employees, the local community and staff.
“At a time when the Government talks about getting single parents into work, the closure of the day nurseries will make it impossible for ordinary working people to balance their work and family commitments.
“The trust must rethink this decision and consider other business models to continue providing this vital service to working people.
“We are busy consulting with our members and staff at the moment.”
Unison northern regional convenor, Clare Williams, added: “These nurseries provide an invaluable public service to both Trust staff and the local community in Hartlepool and North Stockton.
“This proposed closure will mean job losses for Unison members, disruption for children and their parents and added travel time and expense as they search for new daycare arrangements.
“In a time when Unison health workers have already suffered pay freezes and a derisory pay offer in 2014, these job losses will have a devastating impact on NHS workers and their families.”
A trust spokeswoman confirmed: “North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust is to close both of its nurseries by the end of 2014.
“The decision has been made after a comprehensive review of the service which has become uneconomic to run.
“Fifty four full and part time staff are affected.
“A staff consultation has begun and the trust is in the process of contacting parents to inform them of the closure and enable them to make alternative childcare arrangements.”
Trust chief executive Alan Foster said: “It’s vital to stress that this decision is not in any way a reflection of the quality of our nursery staff who provide an excellent service.
“However in these difficult times we cannot continue to offer a service which spends more than it brings in and therefore has to be subsidised with support from frontline healthcare budgets.”
Hospital campaigner Keith Fisher said: “I am appalled that this is yet more closures.
“This is more steps in the wrong direction – what they have done is wrong.
“All the movements at the hospital have been in the wrong direction and none of them have worked to the benefit of this town.”