A lord, a bishop, two MPs and 18 doctors have joined the general public in supporting a charity cafe threatened with closure at the Countess of Chester Hospital.
Hospital chief executive Tony Chambers wants the in-house catering department to take over the space occupied by the Comfort Zone cafe and shop within the maternity wing operated by the Chester Childbirth Appeal.
The charity raises money for new facilities within the women and children’s building including for those who need extra support after losing a baby. The cafe is also seen as a welcoming sanctuary including for dads whose partners have been in labour for hours on end.
And the 25-year-old charity, set up by former midwife Pat Daniels, is highly regarded – as revealed in letters sent by notable individuals including Lord Cholmondeley who have written to the chief executive.
In a letter signed simply ‘David Cholmondeley’, he wrote: “As a patron and long-time supporter of the Chester Childbirth Appeal, I am dismayed to hear that you have decided to take back the premises occupied by their coffee shop at the start of next year (2017).
“The benefit to patients and staff of the hospital, as well as to the charity, has been immeasurable over the years.
“We all understand the pressures that hospitals are under, but surely in this case it must be possible to find a solution that is satisfactory to all parties?”
The Bishop of Chester, Rt Rev Dr Peter Forster, wrote to charity founder Mrs Daniels on behalf of himself and wife Elisabeth, who are both listed as patrons. Mrs Daniels is still active in the charity day-to-day even though she turns 88 this year but hates to be regarded as ‘an old lady’.
Bishop Peter, who signed his letter simply as ‘Pete’, told Mrs Daniels she should ‘take great pride’ in everything achieved largely due to her ‘drive, energy and enthusiasm’. He added: “We will continue to support you through this difficult time.”
No fewer than 18 hospital consultants, who also use the cafe as customers, penned a joint letter to Mr Chambers in which they wrote: “The Comfort Zone is much more than a food outlet to our women and children’s service. Their success has reaped rewards for us all in terms of money raised to make vital changes to our bricks and mortar, equipment and patient facilities often improving quality and safety in the services we provide. It has done this for years. There are too many improvements to mention.
“We realise that the Countess and the NHS as a whole is in a state of financial meltdown however, to us, we just cannot see what benefits that this would bring although we appreciate that we only have limited access to information.”
Members of the public have flooded The Chronicle Facebook page with supportive comments.
Christopher Stephen Moss wrote: “This cafe was a constant through both of my children’s births . Friendly warm staff. Brilliant service . It’s the gem of the countess. Providing sausage butties to those dads who’ve spent 18 hours with wife in labour, to those precious mums who want some real food rather than hospital rubbish. Grandparents looking for a gift for the new arrival. Could go on!”
Carla Spencer agreed: “The Countess of Chester bosses should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. That cafe is the biggest asset they have! Wonderful staff, and great quality, reasonably priced food....just what I needed during two stays of six weeks in neo-natal and subsequent short stays on children’s ward. Outrageous!”
Chester MP Chris Matheson, a patron of the charity, wrote to the hospital chief executive on behalf of a concerned constituent, saying he was ‘disappointed’ at the decision to close the charity coffee shop.
He wrote: “In this instance, is it not possible to leave a long-standing enterprise, that serves a different purpose than other facilities within the hospital?”
He wrote: “I understand that there are plans to take the café back into the in-house catering team at the hospital. This seems like a shame given the volunteering opportunities that the café offers and the levels of revenue made for the Chester Child Birth appeal.”
Mr Chambers wrote in response: “The hospital fully supports The Chester Childbirth Appeal charity and wishes it to continue with its good work and long-standing partnership with The Countess. It raises money in many ways, not just through its coffee shop.”
Mr Chambers continued: “We want The Countess catering service to assume responsibilities for the running and management of the facility. They have a fantastic reputation in terms of quality, regulation and business acumen. We know it won’t be any more expensive for customers.
“There is the opportunity to share expertise and learning in bringing the two teams together. We want the current salaried staff and volunteers in the charity coffee shop to have continued input into the running of the facility as part of a wider catering team. We aren’t anticipating job losses. NHS terms and conditions of contract may even be a better proposition for those whom TUPE applies.
“Although we can’t directly donate profits to the charity by taking this facility in-house, we will commit to equivalent funds generated by this shop being re-invested in women and children’s services in keeping with the principles of Chester Childbirth Appeal.
“This means that in combining the operational expertise of our catering team with the Chester Childbirth coffee shop team, we will be in an even better position to generate more funds to benefit mums and new born babies. At a time of well documented financial challenge for the NHS, we thought this was a sensible option to explore.”