Jobs on the line as hospital looks to privatise childcare operations

Somerset Cottage. Photo: Melinda Jane.
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The Local Health District is seeking an external operator to manage Somerset Cottage, but staff are worried about their future at the childcare centre on the grounds of Nepean Hospital.

First opened in 1991 with services provided directly by Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District (NBMLHD), a new purpose-built centre was officially opened in 2020 as part of the $550 million Stage 1 redevelopment of the hospital.

Chairperson of Penrith Valley Community Unions Peter Mason told the Weekender that staff of the centre contacted him after they were informed of a new management plan.

“The staff were told that a tender has gone out for the centre to be privatised and while they could be kept on there is no guarantee so the only offer at the moment is to go through the redundancy process,” Mr Mason said.

“They wanted to speak out but are unable to due to the confidentiality clauses within their employment, so they have reached out to me.”

Providing advice to some staff members, Mr Mason expressed their uncertainty about their employment status.

“I have talked to people who said they are disappointed and also angry as they believe it may be due to financial trouble and they think selling it off in a sense isn’t the answer,” he said.

“They told me that the tender closes on January 2 so they have to go through the holiday period and take care of the children while wondering if they will still have a job.”

Peter Mason and George Asciak at Somerset Cottage. Photo: Melinda Jane.

NBMLHD Director Hospital Services, Brett Williams did not comment on if financial issues or redundancy packages were involved but he did confirm that it was seeking expressions of interests from operators in childcare services.

“We recognise professional early childhood services, onsite and those off campus, are essential for many of our staff to balance work and parenting responsibilities,” Mr Williams said.

“By having early childhood education services conducted by an experienced external provider, NBMLHD can redirect resources to its core business of healthcare.”

Mr Williams said parents are being updated on the process and support is being provided to staff.

“All children currently enrolled, or on the waiting list, will not lose their place,” he said.

“When an alternate provider is selected, we will ensure services are not disrupted during the changeover.”

Mr Mason said he hopes a resolution is found to ensure that a vital community service is not lost.

“This is a unique childcare which operates from 6am to 6.30pm because it meets the needs of what hospital staff need on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

“If a company reduces the services or if they even close the centre then they lose the drawcard for staff with children which effects the healthcare system even more.”

Emily Feszczuk

A graduate of Western Sydney University, Emily covers Local, State and Federal politics for the Weekender, as well as crime and general news.

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