Volunteers ousted from hospital by WH Smith

ROYAL Free bosses have been accused of commercialising the hospital by allowing a retail giant to take over a volunteer-run shop.

Unpaid helpers have run the hospital shop for decades and are devastated by the decision to replace it with a WH Smith.

Everyone – from doctors and nurses to patients and visitors – have protested against the plan, they say.

The move continues the trend to bring expensive brand names, such as Costa Coffee and Starbucks, into hospitals.

An elderly helper, who did not want to be named, said: “It’s upset a lot of people. We’ve had the shop for so many years – people do knitting for it and all little things. The food’s very nice and it will be a lot dearer at the other shop.”

Another angry volunteer, who also asked to remain anonymous, said: “I think it’s disgraceful. Everything in that hospital now is branded shops and restaurants.

“The shop manager put in his own business plan but there’s no way he could compete with WH Smith. It’s bloody capitalism – it’s moving the high street into the hospital.”

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The 65-year-old added that the closure would leave a large hole in volunteers’ lives.“I’ve been there 10 years – but some of them have been there three times as long,” he said. “Some of them are very elderly and volunteering at the shop is a way to give them meaningful and useful work.”

But hospital chief executive David Sloman hails the move as “as a new era for retail services”.

The firm was chosen from a shortlist of six other bidders and is expected to bring in substantial revenue for the Royal Free.

It is rumoured to have agreed an annual rent fee of �110,000 a year and has pledged a one-off �100,000 payment to the hospital’s charity – Friends of the Royal Free – for medical equipment.

Further goodwill gestures from WH Smith have come in the form of a donation of 400 books to populate a new patient library. This will be replenished with 50 additional books each year.

A Royal Free spokeswoman said: “The trust aims to provide a quality catering service to its staff, patients and visitors, which is why the Royal Free site has a staff restaurant and several coffee shops. All the evidence shows that these services are appreciated.

“Earlier this year, the Friends of the Royal Free decided to cease running the Friends’ shop. The premises were handed back to the trust, which negotiated a contract with WH Smith. As a result, the Royal Free will have a high quality shop and income from its activities will go towards patient care.

“As part of the contract, WH Smith has agreed to make a substantial payment to the Friends which will be used to buy medical equipment. WH Smith will stock the trolleys which are taken by volunteers around the wards and will pay �6,000 towards the salary of a volunteer co-ordinator.

“The volunteers who support the shop are being offered other volunteering opportunities to contribute to the work of the hospital. Some have already been placed in alternative roles within the trust.

“We are very grateful for the contribution these volunteers have made over the years to the trust and its services for patients, and will continue to make.

For example, the volunteer-led trolley service to the wards will continue.”