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'I cried a lot': NHS doctor forced to 'give up' children as nurseries close

Sky News logo Sky News 31/03/2020 Helen-Ann Smith, news correspondent

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(Video by Press Association)

Many NHS workers who are parents to pre-school children are being forced to stay home because they can't access child care.

It comes as an estimated 50% of nurseries have closed during the coronavirus lockdown.

Under the government's instructions children should not be going to school or nursery unless their parents are key workers.

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But three quarters of nurseries in the UK are private businesses and for many it's just not viable to stay open with such low attendance.

Sky News has also seen evidence that some early years providers are offering to erroneously define parents as key workers so they can remain operational.

Examples include a university professor, a worker for an online gift supplier and even a waitress.

It all points to an industry struggling to balance the government's expectations with the business reality of a dramatically reduced income.

a close up of a woman with red hair looking at the camera: Doctor Adele Holland says she has 'cried a lot' since Evie, (pictured) and Harry left © Other Doctor Adele Holland says she has 'cried a lot' since Evie, (pictured) and Harry left Adele Holland is a doctor and a single mum to Evie, six, and Harry, four.

When Harry's nursery closed and her childminder stopped working she knew she couldn't balance her shift hours with childcare and was forced to make an impossible decision.

"My choice was either stay at home with my children and not work, knowing that all of this including the shortages of NHS staff was going on," she says.

"Or the other option was to lose my children for three months."

She felt she couldn't be away from work at a time like this and so Evie is now living with Adele's mother and Harry with her ex-partner.

Due to the lockdown and the fact that her mother is over 70 and shielding, she knows she may not see them for months.

"It's hard because my kids are everything to me," she says. "They are my world and I miss them so much.

a close up of a girl: Harry, four (left) and his sister, Evie, six © Other Harry, four (left) and his sister, Evie, six "I cried a lot, Evie rings me at night sometimes, she uses my mum's phone. We just lay in bed with the phone next to my face. For her, three months is such a long time."

Many other NHS workers are facing the same challenge and many have no choice but to stay home.

Across the country nurseries are struggling to keep their doors open.

Many that have closed are still charging parents for services they aren't receiving just to stay afloat.

a boy wearing sunglasses: Harry has gone to live with Adele's ex-partner © Other Harry has gone to live with Adele's ex-partner At Gumboots nursery in southeast London, part of the London Early Years Foundation chain, they are looking after 13 children of key workers who have come from across the city.

"Out of our 39 nurseries we've closed 19 and we've hubbed the rest so we can provide essential services and vulnerable places for those children who need it," explains June O'Sullivan the chief executive.

She's frustrated and worried about the coming months.

"We've been given absolutely nothing at all, even the business interruption loans. I've yet to be able to connect with the bank and we're really worried about not being able to talk to them about it," she said.

"There's no easy way in which to manage all of this, no acknowledgement of our contribution."

There are calls too from the industry body to do more to protect nursery staff.

a man and a woman sitting on a chair: Evie is staying with Adele's parents © Other Evie is staying with Adele's parents Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, said: "The personal protective equipment is not available for nursery staff and I think that needs to be available as a matter of urgency.

"There is a concern because, don't forget these nursery staff are looking after children of key workers who are going into NHS hospitals and coming to pick up their children, absolutely shattered, and they themselves are exposed."

The government is continuing to fund free entitlements to nurseries, even where children are not attending.

A Department for Education spokesperson thanked nurseries and childcare providers, adding: "This is a vital part of our fight against coronavirus.

"We are monitoring the availability of provision, including for NHS staff closely.

"If any critical workers do not have access to their usual childcare place they should continue to contact their LA (local authority) to arrange an alternative.

"We are continuing to work with PHE and follow their advice. Safety will always be the priority."

Stay at home to stop coronavirus spreading - here is what you can and can't do. If you think you have the virus, don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland, anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.

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