Friends of St Richard’s, volunteers and patients are dismayed by Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust decision to hand Hospital shop to large commercial bidder.

The Friends of Chichester Hospitals, and our colleague charities Friends of Worthing Hospital and the League of Friends of Southlands Hospital are deeply disappointed by the decision of Western Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, announced this week, to award a contract to a commercial provider for the retail spaces currently occupied by the Friends. We have served the needs of our hospitals and their patients, staff and visitors efficiently and caringly for almost 70 years.

The Friends came into being because of local community loyalty to our hospitals, drawing volunteers from these communities, using local suppliers and raising funds for our hospitals.

The Trust announcement has come after almost five months of uncertainty for the Friends, during which the Trust has pursued a commercial tender process, while keeping open the option of retaining the status quo. It is not clear why the Trust chose to include the Friends’ shops in the tender process, given that there has never been any suggestion from the Trust that our tailored offer of products, profitability or our standard of service has been unsatisfactory. Due to the structure of the tender the Friends were unable to bid for our existing facilities, but offered to redevelop our shops and frontages if the Trust agreed to maintain the status quo.

Since early July, our dedicated team of Friends volunteers who have been serving the needs of patients, staff and visitors for so many years have continued to operate a normal service, in spite of inevitable anxiety and the sense that the thousands of unpaid hours they have given annually, and the funds they have raised, have not been recognised and valued by Trust management in the tender process. The Friends’ trustees, members and supporters are immensely proud of the loyalty, and determination the volunteers have shown at this difficult time. It is expected to take some time for Compass to be installed, and the Friends intend to run services as normally as possible until reorganization takes effect.

Friends Trolley and Shop Services

All of the Friends’ shops and cafes have been run successfully and profitably for decades. Substantial annual profits have been returned in their entirety to the respective hospitals each year, plus additional funds raised through donations, events, and legacies. In the last 10 years, the three Friends’ charities combined have annually donated equipment costing approximately £800,000 to £1,000,000 to our Hospitals.

The Trust has announced that its chosen provider, Compass Group UK and Ireland, will provide £450K each year and that the first instalment will help to fund imaging and ultrasound equipment for St Richards and Worthing Hospitals. In view of our record of funding, we are surprised that the Friends have not been approached for funding for this project, and indeed have received unusually few requests for support in the last twelve months, despite continued openness to applications as usual.

The Friends of Chichester Hospitals have consistently supported the purchase of major equipment items and projects for St Richard’s Hospital, for example the Fernhurst Centre, CT scanner, MRI, A & E X Ray room, Ophthalmology Clinic, Eye Surgery, etc, and have always been open to receiving and supporting requests from successive hospital management boards.

The Trust has stated that it will make suitable alternative space available for the Friends to relocate our retail shop, “in the heart of the hospital”, and that it hopes the trolley service will continue. Although this process has been running for 5 months, we have yet to learn what space in the “heart” of St Richard’s is envisaged, and will evaluate any option on a number of considerations such as security for volunteers, allocation of space and accessibility. Concern remains regarding the future viability of the Friends’ daily ward trolley service, which we know is a highlight of the day for most patients, if a full high quality shop service as at present cannot be replicated to support it.

Friends Hospital Trolley Volunteers

Friends Hospital Trolley Volunteers

The Friends Shop has occupied the main entrance location of St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester for over 20 years and the team has developed its carefully tailored stock to ensure that all possible needs may be met for patients, visitors and staff. There are some 90 Friends volunteers, stacking shelves, pushing the trolley, helping vulnerable customers. This decision has come as a heavy blow to the men and women who put their hearts into serving the needs of others, helping to lighten the strain of illness upon countless patients and their families.

The success, reliability, and popularity of the Friends Shops among our core customers have been demonstrated by the thousands of people who have taken the trouble to organise or sign petitions asking that the Friends continue to run the hospital shops and cafes, as opposed to external commercial providers. Extensive customer surveys also showed huge support, with over 99% of respondents stating that they did not wish any change to be made. Their views have been set aside.

We would like to thank the many people who have expressed their appreciation and respect for the work of the Friends and especially of our Shop volunteers and staff who have continued through this lengthy and difficult process to deliver a professional and genuinely “friendly” service to all our customers. The messages of thanks and support have been amazing – people have spoken from the heart and it is clear that the Friends, our shops and staff are held in real affection by the communities we serve.

The Friends of Chichester Hospitals remain focused on our core purpose and values, pursued since the charity began in 1948, including voluntary service to patients, providing funds to supplement the resources of the hospital service, and providing a link between the Chichester Hospitals and the community which they serve.

The present Trustees and volunteers will continue to put patients first, as the charity has always done.

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