Parents and staff 'in shock' at news Banbury's Horton Hospital childcare centre will close by September

Parents of around 100 children using the childcare nursery at the Horton General Hospital say they are shocked at being told the unit will close in September.

By Roseanne Edwards
Monday, 13th June 2022, 11:11 am
Updated Monday, 13th June 2022, 11:19 am
Parents of children using the day nursery at the Horton General Hospital site are worried they may not have childcare in September. Picture by Getty Images
Parents of children using the day nursery at the Horton General Hospital site are worried they may not have childcare in September. Picture by Getty Images

Parents received a brief email last week telling them the nursery would close on or before September 2nd. Staff were informed a few days before.

Abingdon-based Aurora Childcare, which runs the Horton nursery and Pippins childcare at the Nuffield hospital site in Oxford, said it is being forced to close because of increasing costs, the effect of Brexit on staff recruitment and insufficient government finance for free hours.

The Oxford University Hospitals Trust (OUH) said it is working to ‘agree on a new lease’ in a bid to ensure continuity of care.

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Banbury is said to have a shortage of childcare places. Picture by Getty Images

One parent told the Banbury Guardian the nursery’s closure would have a ‘devastating impact’ if alternatives cannot be found. It is understood there is a lack of nursery places in Banbury and few accommodate the hours needed by NHS workers.

Another said parents were ‘scrambling’ to find alternative childcare, but many nurseries are simply full. They complained neither they, nor staff, had received any support from Aurora. They said the company number had been disconnected along with some information from its website. It’s Facebook page had also been deleted, they said.

"The staff team on the ground at the Horton appear to be very upset and are left without a clear steer from their senior management who are notable by their absence. It appears that they have ‘cut and run’ which will be dangerous if staff at the nursery start to leave to take up other jobs and the staffing numbers fall below a sustainable and safe number.

"I am also concerned about the lack of clear, safe, senior management for day-to-day running of the nursery until they close. As a parent, the whole thing has been handled completely irresponsibly by all involved and now a whole cohort of families is struggling for childcare.”

Another parent told the Banbury Guardian: “As a NHS key worker parent of a toddler at the Horton Nursery, I am devastated by the short notice given by Aurora Childcare to find a suitable alternative childcare place for him.

"There is nothing available in Banbury that meets my shift working pattern and I really don’t know how we will cope as a family. The Aurora team have since informed that they have known since November 2021 that this was a possible outcome but waited until now to tell parents. They have offered no empathy towards the families they serve, or support in finding alternative arrangements. We feel very let down by them.”

The parent said OUH employees had been told only that there will be a change of nursery provider at Horton Day Nursery and Pippins Day Nursery at the NOC later this year, with no further details. Oxford Health employees who use the nurseries have not received anything.

In a letter to parents, Aurora Childcare said: “It is likely both Pippins and Horton Day Nursery will be closing on or before Friday, September 2 – this date being dependant on maintaining the required staffing ratios.

“The Horton Lease has expired and unfortunately we have been unable to agree satisfactory new lease terms. What was offered by OUH is not viable for us as a small provider and provided no security for the nursery going forward.

“We made contact with a larger provider who was happy to negotiate new terms with the hospital with the view to taking over both nurseries. However the hospital have, at this time, rejected this for what we understand to be procurement reasons. We understand that OUH are reviewing their options with regards to finding alternative providers.”

The company explained costs for childcare are rising fast and government funding for free hours was unsustainable. Bureaucracy is increasing, it said and recruitment of qualified staff a ‘major issue’.

"Over the last nine months, as the economy has been recovering the effects of Brexit are now being felt widely within the sector generally and particularly in Oxford where we had been fortunate in regularly employing qualified staff from the EU, which is, of course, no longer possible.

“We believe it is no longer viable for small childcare providers to survive in this environment. Large operators have many big nurseries, deeper pockets, economies of scale and large central support departments to meet the ever changing demands of the sector.

“It is sad for us that, as it stands, after over 25 years at OUH it is now likely that we will no longer be operating in the childcare sector.

"September 2 is at the end of the scholastic year so all children who make use of Nursery Education Funded hours will have received their full annual allowance. Also in September, children aged four or over move on to school, which has the knock-on effect of creating vacancies in nurseries, so we feel very confident that there should be places available for parents in other nurseries at this time."

A spokesperson from Oxford University Hospitals said: “Many local businesses are feeling the squeeze from higher operating costs, and the nursery sector is no different. We can confirm that Aurora Childcare, managers of two of our onsite nurseries at the Horton General Hospital and Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre have given us a notice of intent to terminate their leases and that Aurora have notified parents and staff of their intentions.

“I know how important nursery provision is for staff and for the other parents who use those nurseries. The Trust is currently working to agree on a new lease for each of the sites to secure continuity of service on behalf of our staff and their children, and we will keep everyone affected abreast with the developments.”