Socialist Worker

Hospital nursery crisis leaves health workers holding the baby

by Yuri Prasad
Issue No. 2055

Sharon and her son Michael: poor childcare makes working life difficult  (Pic:

Sharon and her son Michael: poor childcare makes working life difficult (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

Experienced staff at the Royal London hospital in east London are facing the possibility of being unable to continue work because of the closure of a scandal-hit private on-site nursery.

The Buffer Bear nursery closed in May following a series of terrible blunders. In one a child had to have a finger amputated following an accident.

In another incident a youngster was found wandering from the nursery towards a busy main road. And in a third shocking mishap, a child was left behind in a toilet cubicle during a fire drill that was supposed to account for everyone.

Sharon Geoghegan is a ward sister at the hospital. She was due to place her 11 month old son Michael into the nursery following her return from maternity leave.

'I didn't hear about the problems because I was on leave,' says Sharon, who specialises in caring for people with respiratory diseases.

'I didn't even hear that my hospital trust had terminated its contract with the nursery directly. My brother knew somebody else that had their kids there, so he told me the news.


'Michael had been due to start at the nursery in three weeks' time, so I had a little leeway. But most of the other parents only got a few days' notice.

'The Buffer Bear nursery was used by a lot of staff at the hospital because it had hours that suited NHS staff. It opened at 7am, an hour earlier than most, which is important if your shift starts at 8am on the dot.

'It was on-site, so you could drop and collect your child without getting stuck in horrendous traffic jams.

'The trust also subsidised places for the children of health workers, which made it more affordable.

'Now lots of staff are having to scrabble around looking for places, or making complex arrangements with family and friends.

'There are very few vacancies at state-run nurseries, and even fewer at those that can cope with shift workers. Childcare costs are going through the roof.

'The addition of lots of Royal London staff looking for spaces for their children will have made the situation even more difficult.

'I was lucky in that my mum lives near by and offered to look after Michael. But for a while I wondered whether I would have to give up my job because organising the childcare was going to be such a nightmare.

'There are other mums I know who have had the same problem – people whose jobs are too inflexible to work around the opening and closing times of nurseries, and are having a really hard time of it.

'I think the way in which childcare is being organised in this country makes a mockery of the government's claim to be in favour of family friendly policies.

'We have an increasingly privatised system in which staff are poorly paid and poorly treated, and where the quality of care is often so low that you worry about going to work.

'The cost of this care is becoming a major obstacle to people returning to work.

'Yet for hundreds of thousands of parents the option of staying at home to look after your child will mean real difficulties when they want to return to work in a few years' time.

'If the government was serious about being 'family friendly' they would fund decent childcare, properly resourced with well trained staff.

'But instead all they offer are more of the same policies that are wrecking the NHS – cuts and privatisation.'

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Article information

Tue 12 Jun 2007, 19:56 BST
Issue No. 2055
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